Thursday, July 17, 2014

Judas Priest - Redeemer of Souls (2014)

It has been 40 years since a bunch of British lads laid the foundation of heavy metal with their debut album "Rocka Rolla" and it has all led towards this moment. After 16 albums, tons of laps around the globe and several good and bad times, Judas Priest has created what seems to become their very last album.

"Redeemer of Souls" is the follow up album to the 6 year old predecessor "Nostradamus", and if that album was a wild experimentation, this album is the complete opposite. "Redeemer of Souls" is more or less a beginners guide to Judas Priest. It is pure heavy metal that takes you back to several of the band's master pieces, especially the amazing "Painkiller" is represented a lot in this album. It actually would have been a perfect follow up album to the excellent "comeback" record "Angel of Retribution" if "Nostradamus" was not squeezed in between.

Lot of the talk around this album has been about K. K. Downing's departure, and even if his replacement Richie Faulkner does a good job, he just does not have the same connection to Tipton that Downing had. But still, the guitarists does a swell job in this album despite a very poor production where the guitars sounds flat and dull. Then there is also the fact that The Metal God's voice is not what it used to be, which is clearly evident on the higher notes, but remember that Rob Halford is 63 years old, and to still pack quite a punch in the voice at that age is surely impressive.

Most of the songs on "Redeemer of Souls" are pretty decent, but they can easily be compared to several classic Judas tunes, like the opener "Dragonaut" sounds like "Leather Rebel" and the title track is a lot like "Judas Rising". So there is no song in this album that can really match the band's best work, but that does not bother me since it is still a good quality of music in here. My current favourite is "Halls of Valhalla" that slams down with a grand sound, a catchy chorus and a Rob Halford that gives his all in the song. Probably the best song they have made since Rob's return to the band.

But if this song does not get you going, there are plenty of other songs to chose from. "Redeemer of Souls" contain 13 songs, and another 5 if you have the deluxe edition at your disposal, which makes this a very meaty Priest album (not as meaty as "Nostradamus" though, thank god). Some other highlights in this album is the passionate "Sword of Damocles", the epic and strong "Battle Cry" and the beautiful rock ballad "Beginning of The End". However, since there are so many songs in this record there are bound to be some fillers in there, like the boring "March of The Damned", the sluggish "Crossfire" and all of the bonus songs. Fortunately, there is enough quality in this album to get past these fillers.

I am glad that Judas Priest's discography did not end with "Nostradamus" since it didn't feel like it had the soul of the band. "Redeemer of Souls" has this soul, although it is slightly damaged thanks to a bad production and aging members. But no matter what, this is pure heavy metal, and if this happen to be the last we will ever hear from the band, then I think this is a worthy ending for one of the most inspirational heavy metal bands of all time. Thank you Judas Priest for giving us over 4 decades of great metal music.

Songs worthy of recognition: Halls of Valhalla, Redeemer of Souls, Sword of Damocles, Battle Cry

Rating: 7,5/10 Metalizers

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Black Sabbath - Born Again (1983)

Man, Black Sabbath is not good at all at timing their album titles. First we had "Never Say Die!", which  was the last album before the definite death of the original line-up, and now we have "Born Again", a title that should have been more fitting on "Heaven And Hell". But at the same time, it was understandable why the band had chosen this title. Bill Ward was back in the line-up and they also had a new singer in Ian Gillan, whom you may recognize from Deep Purple, so you might think that Black Sabbath wanted to start on a new page once again.

And sure enough, it is a new Black Sabbath that enters in "Born Again", but it is not necessarily a better band that emerges. Just like with Dio, Gillian was heavily involved in the songwriting process, and it is noticeable. It may sound a lot like Sabbath, but there are hints of Deep Purple in the music that makes it easier for Gillian to fit in, which is totally fine since it sounds more like a Black Sabbath album than a Deep Purple album. But it was a problem in the end, because since Gillian came from a different musical background, he had trouble in adapting to the band's early works, which is also why "Born Again" became the first and only Black Sabbath album featuring Gillian.

As for the music itself, it is a mixed bag for me. Some songs like the dark and heavy "Disturbing The Priest" and the epic self titled ballad feels like they belong in this album and is a good continuation of the band's sound. But they are getting mixed up with songs that just throws the album off course. Despite its cool, long solo, "Zero The Hero" is one of those songs with its sluggish tempo and boring structure. And while "Digital Bitch" turns up the heat, it just feels a little too much like a Deep Purple song.

The overall experience of "Born Again" is that it could have been a really sweet album if some of the dents had been smoothed out. Because the main problem with the album is that it has a lot of cool ideas, especially in the solo department, but the final product is just sloppy and poorly made. The production is shaky, the album cover is horrible and the whole band chemistry was just not there. It definitely goes to show that just because you got a great singer with lots of talent at your disposal, it does not mean that you will automatically connect with this dude on a musical level.

This has been the hardest Black Sabbath album to rate so far, and that is all thanks to the uneven quality in the songs. Some songs were good, others were bad. This is without a doubt the most uneven Black Sabbath album up to date and it is not surprising that the record's line up only lasted one album. Ultimately, it is the negative sides that sticks out of "Born Again", which is why I cannot give this album any higher rating than this.

Songs worthy of recognition: Disturbing The Priest, Born Again

Rating: 4,5/10 Digital Bitches

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Amberian Dawn - Magic Forest (2014)

It is almost a shame that the Finnish symphonic power metal band Amberian Dawn has been heavily compared to Nightwish, but there are reasons to why these bands has been compared to each other. Just like Nightwish, Amberian Dawn quickly grew a reputation as a fast playing band that mixed heavy riffs and melodies with the female opera singer Heidi Parviainen behind the microphone. But in 2012, Heidi left the band and was later replaced with Päivi "Capri" Selo, who is a "normal" singer. Most of us know what happened to Nightwish when they went through the same phase, Anette Olzon replaced Tarja Turunen, and even though the two albums she was involved in was some of the band's strongest works, she herself was heavily criticized by the fans of the band.

Checking around in some various metal sites and such, I get the feeling like the fans are a little hesitant about the new singer and that most of them wants Heidi back. Even though Capri is a good singer, I can actually agree with these fans, but mostly because it is hard to accumulate from one style of singing to another. We already got some heads up with the best of album "Re-Evolution" where Capri sings on some old Amberian Dawn classics, and she did a pretty decent job, but it was pretty clear that it was not at the same class as the original versions.

Anyway, how is Capri doing in "Magic Forest", the band's 5th studio effort? Well, she is doing a good job and it is clear that the band has succeeded in writing songs that fits Capri's voice while still maintaining the typical Amberian Dawn sound. I still miss Heidi though, but that does not take away that Capri is a great replacement for the band.

The music itself is nothing surprising, solid and melodic power metal at its finest. However, I do miss some of the craziness that the band usually brings in the guitar department, especially in the solos. Sure you can do a great solo without shredding until your fingers bleed, but it was one of the trademarks of Amberian Dawn in their early career and one of the things that made me a fan of the band. There are however very little in the music I can complain about, even if most of the songs in "Magic Forest" has been done before in any other of the band's albums. I also feel that the album starts of good with strong songs like "Cherish My Memory" and "Magic Forest", but it becomes weaker and more anonymous the longer it goes.

But in the end, "Magic Forest" is just another solid album by the band, and it is definitely a step forward from the lackluster effort known as "Circus Black". The band has made it as easy as possible for Capri to fit in the Amberian Dawn formula, and she is doing a wonderful job fitting in. So do not mourn over Heidi's departure, be happy over that Amberian Dawn still creates highly enjoyable melodic power metal.

Songs worthy of recognition: Magic Forest, Cherish My Memory, Sons of The Rainbow

Rating: 7,5/10 Warnings

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Mastodon - Once More 'round The Sun (2014)

When it comes to the Atlanta band Mastodon, there is only one thing to expect when entering a new album from them. The unexpected. Since its creation in 1999, Mastodon has spoiled us with a massive variety in both musicality and creativity. You never know what the band will throw at you next, which is only one of the things that has helped them gain the fame and reputation that they currently possess.

"Once More 'round The Sun" is album number 6 from the band, and at first, it seems to be a continuation on what the band started in their last album, "The Hunter". A straight forward album that puts its focus on heavy riffs and memorable songs. But the more you listen to the album, the more progressive it seems. And that is what makes "Once More 'round The Sun" so special, progressive and high soaring melodies are mixed with simple memorable choruses. The first single "High Road" is a perfect example of that. The main riff is simple, but effective, and it does not take much effort to learn the chorus, but then we have the solo part that takes the song to a totally different level. It is controlled madness at its best.

The crazy thing is that even if I love "High Road", it is actually one of the weaker songs in the album. Because just like almost every other Mastodon album, the biggest strength with "Once More 'round The Sun" is that all of the songs have a ridiculously high standard. And most of the credit for that goes to the amazing instrumentation by the band, especially the drumming (and some of the singing) by Brann Dailor is exceptionally awesome.

Another strong point with the album is that it shows a big variety in songs, but it still has a red line that makes the album feel like one cohesive piece. "The Motherload" is a very simple, but highly addictive song that could be a potential live favourite, while the title track sounds like a classic Mastodon track mixed with some Rush melodies. Then we have "Chimes At Midnight" that shows the classic Mastodon madness with a main riff that will haunt me for weeks, which I do not mind at all. I also enjoy the nice groove attack that "Halloween" brings, the rapid fire attack from "Tread Lightly" and the calmer moments in "Asleep In The Deep".

Is "Once More 'round The Sun" Mastodon's strongest album up to date? No, it is not, but it is hard to deny that it is another fantastic high quality piece from the band. It may be the band's most commercial album up to date, but that does not mean that the band has sold out themselves. "Once More 'round The Sun" is still Mastodon to the bone and it is a fantastic roller coaster ride for both old and new fans of the band. This album (and its crazy cover art) will definitely be one of the top contenders of "Album of the year" when I summarize 2014 in December.

Songs worthy of recognition: Chimes At Midnight, The Motherload, Once More 'round The Sun, Asleep In The Deep, Halloween

Rating: 9,5/10 High Roads

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Arch Enemy - War Eternal (2014)

There were probably a lot of you that were shocked when you woke up to the news that Angela Gossow, the female front figure of death metal band Arch Enemy, had left her position, after 14 years of excellent service, to instead focus on being involved in the band's management. Not only has Angela been the singer for one of the biggest death metal bands out there today, she paved the way for female vocalists to show that even they can execute brutal vocal melodies with their voices, so who ever would take her place, would have a tough job ahead of them.

Eventually, it stood clear that it was Alissa White-Gluz who would be the new queen of Arch Enemy. Alissa is mostly known for her work in The Agonist, where she mixed both harsh and clean vocals, and she has definitely done some good work there (the latest album for example, "Prisoners"). So with in mind of what she has done in the past and what capacity she has, I think Alissa is a good replacement for the band.

And that becomes even more evident in the band's 10th studio offering, "War Eternal". Alissa does a great job behind the microphone with her large vocal range. And no, she doesn't use her clean vocals once throughout the album (except for one small part in the chorus of "Avalanche", but it is non significant), which is of course an instant plus (could you imagine? Arch Enemy with clean vocals? eww).

Besides from Alissa, there is not much that has changed with Arch Enemy between this album and its predecessor, "Khaos Legions". Although Cristopher Amott left the band once again in 2012 (replaced by Nick Cordle), it is still his brother and founding member Michael Amott that rules the guitar playing with his mix of melodic and heavy riffs. And together with the intense drumming by Daniel Erlandsson and the deep bass rhythms by Sharlee D'Angelo, the band has created some impressive work in "War Eternal".

Some of the strong points of the album are the fast paced title track, the dark and heavy "As The Pages Burn", the melodic "You Will Know My Name" and the apocalyptic "On And On", but there are also some parts of the record that just does not seem right. One thing that bothers me the most is the large amounts of neo-classical music, a thing that fits more into a power metal band or a Yngwie Malmsteen album. Guess that Micheal took some inspiration from the wrong sources. I also do not like how the album itself is build. The first half is considerably better than the second half, so it would have been better to even out the field, and don't even get me started on that boring instrumental "Not Long For This World" that ends the album.

Just like most of the later albums by the band, "War Eternal" will create some controversy. Some will love it, others will hate it. I myself think it is one of the stronger albums by the band, but that its inconsistencies keeps it from being a masterpiece. No matter what, the band still does their thing and Alissa's solid performance makes it seem like nothing significant has happened to the band. The new queen has made her first appearance, and it seems to be the start of a new, strong regime in Arch Enemy.

Songs worthy of recognition: War Eternal, You Will Know My Name, On And On

Rating: 7/10 Avalanches

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Black Sabbath - Mob Rules (1981)

Just like its predecessor, the 10th Black Sabbath album "Mob Rules" had a original member leaving the band. Bill Ward left the band and was replaced by Vinny Appice behind the drum kit. But other than a new drummer, everything was more or less the same with this album as it was with "Heaven And Hell". Dio, Iommi and Butler wrote all of the songs together and Dio wrote all of the lyrics.

So is "Mob Rules" a believable successor to "Heaven And Hell"? Yes, indeed it is. Just like its predecessor, "Mob Rules" have a more straight forward rock attitude that may not appeal to those who like the early Sabbath records, but it definitely fits well in the time and age where the album was released.

I definitely feel like this album has several successful parts that the band has brought from the last album to this one, but it also has its retro moments. The title track is edgy and has a nice tough riff to accompany the attitude. "The Sign of The Southern Cross" however is more progressive and darker, a type of song that is originally associated with the band. Then we have "Falling Off The Edge of The World", that mixes the edgy speed and the progressive melodies perfectly in a song that screams Iron Maiden before Iron Maiden even learned to write these kinds of songs. So there are a bunch of different songs to chose from, and it is not hard to find at least one you will love.

Unfortunately, "Mob Rules" does not have the same evenness that "Heaven And Hell" had. The opener "Turn Up The Night" has some speed, but it is a hollow track that wears out quickly, and "Slipping Away" just feels misplaced in the album with its stale 70's rock rhythm. Those two songs drags the album down a bit, which is sad since the rest of the album holds a high standard.

Therefore, I would say that "Mob rules" has a little bit more of variety than "Heaven And Hell", but I do not consider this to be the superior album. The album definitely has its moments and it shows what a fantastic song and lyric writer Dio really is. Too bad this was his last album with the band (until the 1992 album "Dehumanizer"), because I am sure that Black Sabbath would make even more classic albums with Ronnie by their side.

Songs worthy of recognition: The Mob Rules, The Sign of The Southern Cross, Falling Off The Edge of The World

Rating: 8/10 Country Girls

Friday, May 23, 2014

Casualties of Cool - S/T (2014)

While we are waiting for the long awaited follow up album to "Ziltoid The Omniscient", the Canadian mad man Devin Townsend decided to take his music to another, more undiscovered, territory. During his career, he has experimented with punk, ambient, death metal and several other music forms, but this time, he is focusing on a country album entitled "Casualties of Cool", which he decided to release under a new project (with the same name as the album) instead of it being a DTP release. And it seems like people is hyped for this release since the pledge campaign that Devin launched to cover the costs of this recording reached over 500%.

Helping him with this record, we have the female vocalist Ché Aimee Dorval, which Devin fans might remember from the DTP album "Ki", drummer Morgan Ågren and a guest apperance by Jørgen Munkeby from Shining. He is emerging in the track "Moon" with some sexy saxophone beats, making it one of the more memorable songs in the album.

The album itself is a concept album, about a traveler in a sentient planet that feeds on fear, but with the help of an old radio and phonograph, he can confront his own fear, and thereby, freeing his own soul. It is an interesting story, but you really have to go deep into the lyrics to really understand it, which is both positive and negative. It is positive because it is not too obviously told, but it is negative since most of the listeners might not see a cohesive story in the album.

What matters though is how the music is working together with the lyrics and the story, and I have to say, it works nicely. The album is labeled as country rock, and I can definitely hear some country influences here and there, but I would probably label "Casualties of Cool" as a ambient album with hints of country and blues. It is definitely a album that can be compared to Devin's previous ambient efforts, such as "Ghost" and "The Hummer", but I would put this album at the top because it feels so mature and it is more versatile than the other albums. But is it a album that I would recommend Devin's metal fan base? I would suggest them to give it a try, but remind them that this is not a metal release. If you did not like "Ghost" or "The Hummer", then the chances are slim that you will enjoy this album.

There are not many songs that stands out in "Casualties of Cool", but the ones that does stand out does it in a good way. The saxophone in "Moon" gives the album a nice jazz touch, the beautiful "Flight" brings some atmosphere to the record, "Forgive Me" has a nice, smooth flow, "Deathscope" is a wild piece that could wake up them who sleeps through this album, and the longest song, "The Bridge", is an epic creation that would also fit nicely in "Epicloud". These songs makes "Casualties of Cool" a very nice album, but for it to be a great album, I would have like more stand out songs and fewer anonymous ones.

I am glad that Devin did not go full out with the country on the album, because I would have probably hated it. But the mix of ambient and country blues that "Casualties of Cool" gives us is an interesting and soft style that I can enjoy. I am still more hyped for the second Ziltoid record, but until then, "Casualties of Cool" will do a good job on meeting my, and anyone else's, need for new Devin Townsend music.

Songs worthy of recognition: The Bridge, Moon, Forgive Me

Rating: 7/10 Bones

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Black Sabbath - Heaven And Hell (1980)

So after some turbulent years, the original line-up of Black Sabbath was finally broken up. Ozzy Osbourne left the band and was replaced by the former Rainbow singer Ronnie James Dio. And to say that this change was much needed is an understatement. Alcohol and drugs almost destroyed the band and Ozzy could obviously continue in the shape he was in. So in came Dio, and together with the rest of the founding members of the band (plus keyboardist Geoff Nicholls), they created the album "Heaven And Hell", which is Black Sabbath's 9th album.

There is no doubt that Dio has one of the strongest and most iconic voices in metal, but it is also obvious that he more or less reignited the flame in Black Sabbath. Dio was much involved in the songwriting, including writing all of the lyrics in the album, and it shows. "Heaven And Hell" feels so much fresher than its closest predecessors and the slight influence from Rainbow gives Black Sabbath a new sound that fits them well.

There are a total of 8 songs on "Heaven And Hell", and they all have different strengths. The opening "Neon Knights" is a simple tune that sits firmly in your brain, while the title track is more progressive and builds up to this fantastic fast paced ending that gives you goose bumps all over the body. Then we also have the beautiful "Children of The Sea" (which is the first song Iommi and Dio wrote together), the groovy "Wishing Well" and the fast paced "Die Young" that all makes "Heaven And Hell" a great album.

But even if the craftsmanship is top notch in the record, I am just left here, longing for more. 1 or 2 more songs would not have hurt in any way. That is however a very small complaint on a otherwise marvelous album. It definitely feels like the band has found their passion again and the song writing is amazing. Even the "worst" song "Lady Evil" is an enjoyable piece.

Thanks to the arrival of Ronnie James Dio, Black Sabbath has gained a second wind in their career. "Heaven And Hell" feels fresh, powerful and original. It may not be a typical Black Sabbath album, but the influences and ideas that Dio brought has lifted the band's spirit, and it shows everywhere, from the musicality to the performance. So after a couple of albums from hell, it feels good that Black Sabbath is back to heaven with their self and their music.

Songs worthy of recognition: Heaven And Hell, Neon Knights, Children of The Sea, Die Young

Rating: 9,5/10 Wishing Wells

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Sabaton - Heroes (2014)

I have always asked myself why I do not love the Swedish power metal band Sabaton. Their music has a power that few can match, they can write interesting lyrics about war and history, and their live performances are just electrifying. So why do I not love this band? I have no good answer, but the best description I can give is that the band and its music has a short life span. Sure, the music is fast and adrenaline filled, but I get bored after only 4 full-length listening sessions.

"Heroes" is album number 7 from the band and a lot of things have happened since the 2012 album "Carolus Rex". A total of 4 members left the band, leaving the singer Joakim Brodén and bassist Pär Sundström alone in the band. But even though more than half the band has been replaced, the sounds is more or less the same as it was before.

"Heroes" sets its lyrical focus on World War II with songs about several war heroes like Witold Pilecki ("Inmate 4859"), Leslie "Bull" Allen ("The Ballad of Bull"), and Lauri Törni ("Soldier of 3 Armies"). Sure, you could mark on that Joakim Brodén and Pär Sundström is only writing songs about war and battles and that it is starting to get tedious, but that is what they are passionate about, and their knowledge and research in the subject is impeccable.

As for the music, it is nothing really special. All of the songs have been done at least once in a previous album. It is grand power metal that is perfect for a trip to the gym, or for a killer gaming session if you are a couch potato. The only song that breaks the pattern is "The Ballad of Bull" which is, not surprisingly, a ballad. It is also a pretty grand song, but it loses my interest fairly quickly since it seems to fit a musical better than a metal album. Listen instead to the fist pumping "To Hell And Back", the hard hitting "Resist And Bite", the strong "Inmate 4859" and the epic "No Bullets Fly". Also check out the excellent cover of Metallica's "For Whom The Bell Tolls".

But as stated before, Sabaton records tend to be short lived, and "Heroes" is unfortunately not different from its predecessors. The 10 songs adds up to a total play time of 37 minutes, which makes the album short and compact, and allows you to get the max out of every second. But since almost all the songs have about the same tempo and structure, you tend to get tired of them quickly. And after 7 albums with almost the same formula, it just doesn't have the same effect any more.

I'm sorry Sabaton, but you didn't convince me this time either. "Heroes" is without a doubt another solid album by the lads from Falun, Sweden, but thanks to its many similarities with previous albums from the band, it just feels that it is missing that extra level. The only thing that made me raise an eyebrow over this album is the anatomies of the two guys fighting in the cover, the rest just made me shrug. It is stability in musical form.

Songs worthy of recognition: To Hell And Back, No Bullets Fly, Inmate 4859

Rating: 6/10 Smoking Snakes

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Epica - The Quantum Enigma (2014)

Few bands in the world have a name that fits more to their musical style than the Dutch band Epica. Created in 2002 by Marc Janssen (after leaving his previous band, After Forever), this band has been proving again and again that it is amongst the top in the Dutch symphonic metal community, together with Within Temptation, The Gathering and Delain.

So you would easily expect greatness from the band's 6th album entitled "The Quantum Enigma", and sure enough, this album contains a lot of things that we have learned to love with Epica. The epic melodies, the wide variety in vocals (from harsh to female and quire) and the technical craftsmanship is all there to enjoy within the album.

And so is also the strong quality in the songs. I would say that the band has become a little heavier in their sound since their last album, the 2012 offering "Requiem For The Indifferent", which is of course a good thing. I have always liked it when Epica has leaned more towards their heavy side than their symphonic side (even though I enjoy that part of them as well). But one thing that really surprised me with "The Quantum Enigma" is that it grows on you. After the first couple of listens, I did not really think that the album was something special, but the more I listen to this album, the more I enjoy it. This was not the case with the other Epica albums, but I have to admit, it definitely increases the life span on "The Quantum Enigma" more than on any of the earlier albums.

Song wise, you can be sure to find a couple of songs that you like. Do you like catchy and easily memorable songs? Then the single "The Essence of Silence" is perfectly suited for you. More of the progressive type? No problem, "Sense Without Sanity - The Impervious Code -" and the title track will meet your needs. And don't forget that the album is also packed with grandiose tracks like "Natural Corruption", "The Second Stone", "Omen - The Ghoulish Malady -" and "Chemical Insomnia".

So the variety is not one thing that "The Quantum Enigma" is lacking, but I could wish for some stronger refrains, since several of them are lacking a good punch. But otherwise, there is not much to mark on this album. The production is clean, the instrumentation is nice and Simone Simons sings like a queen. And even though I like Simone and I understand that she is the lead singer of the band, I would like to see a little more from Mark Jansen's harsh vocals. They may not be very original, but they give Epica's music another dimension that most bands within the same genre does not have.

If Delain showed how good a simplistic symphonic metal album can be with "The Human Contradiction", then Epica is showing how good a more complex ditto can be. "The Quantum Enigma" could be one of the more meatier Epica albums up to date, but once you're getting down to its bone, you will see what an amazing piece this is. This is definitely an impressive album that helps Epica maintain their position as one of the best bands in the symphonic metal scene.

Songs worthy of recognition: The Second Stone, The Essence of Silence, Chemical Insomnia, Omen - The Ghoulish Malady -

Rating: 8,5/10 Victims of Contingency