Thursday, July 31, 2014

Grave Digger - Return of The Reaper (2014)

It is indeed the return of the reaper when the German band Grave Digger returns with their 17th album of their career. The band has been in the game for over 30 years and has been one of the leaders when it comes to the development of German power metal. Most of the fans agree on that the band has hit their peak during the 90's with albums like "Tunes of War" and "Excalibur", but there is no denying that the Germans still packs quite a punch in their music.

Nothing is severely different here from earlier albums, except that this album does not have a cohesive theme like its predecessor "Clash of The Gods". And it starts off in a furious tempo after the calm title track that opens up the album. "Hell Funeral" blasts off in classic Grave Digger fashion and it is sure to be a powerful piece that pumps up the crowd at a concert. The following track "War God" is maybe not as fast, but it packs a great amount of punch with its straight forward chorus. And then we have "Tattooed Rider" that is a good epic track that is the track that stands out the most in the album.

But there is something happening with the album after that track, and it is not for the better. The song quality drops for every songs and it just seems like the album does not know where to go in which direction. The songs are not necessarily bad, they are just lackluster. Some songs in the later half like "Resurrection Day" and "Death Smiles At All of Us"  saves some of the band's honor, but it is not enough to save the album.

One thing that comes up for me is that the band is trying to reinvent themselves, not only in the music, but also in the lyrics. "Grave Desecrator" does what it suggest, it has dug up famous Grave Digger lines like last supper and bagpipers play tunes of sorrow. It is still a great song, but the lyrics bug me. And when the band tries to be innovative, they fail miserably. The ballad "Nothing To Believe" is the perfect example, a boring track that ends the album in a sleepy mood. I could have sworn that I nodded of to this song at one of the listening sessions I had.

This review may come out as a very negative one and that I think this album sucks, which is not the case. "Return of The Reaper" is a decent album that is typical Grave Digger, but the problem is that the set list is not very strong and that the band can do a lot better. With over 30 years of experience, you would think that these Germans would know how to make a solid album. Oh well, some songs entertain and the cover art is fantastic, it will have to do until next time.

Songs worthy of recognition: Hell Funeral, Tattooed Rider, Grave Desecrator

Rating: 6/10 War Gods

Monday, July 28, 2014

Overkill - White Devil Armory (2014)

Even though New Jersey thrashers Overkill have had a strong and even career, it is only recently they have gotten the recognition they deserve. The 2010 release "Ironbound" was more or less a shocker and helped the band acquire a bigger fan base (including yours truly). After another really strong effort in "The Electric Age", it is now time for the band's 17th full length album, entitled "White Devil Armory", to enter the stage.

Since the last two album made by the band was fantastic, my expectations was high for this album, and sure enough, I got what I expected. Pure heavy thrash with screaming vocals and well crafted riffs to back it up. Overkill is more or less the Motörhead of thrash. You know what you are gonna get with every new release and you would not have it any other way. It is all here. The slamming beats, the heavy riffs, and the amazing and unique vocals of Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth.

The overall song quality is good in "White Devil Armory", even though you have heard most of the songs in some other way earlier in the band's discography. But no matter what, it is still kicking ass and it is hard to not get into the music. The first half of the album is were most of the highlights hang out, like the high octane opener "Armorist" and the skull pounding "PIG", but to say that the other half only consisted of fillers would be a complete lie. "White Devil Armory" has a solid amount of songs and none of them seems boring nor out of place. However, coming after two records that had several amazing songs, it is not hard to understand that "White Devil Armory" does not have the same number of knockout punches in its artillery, but it is still enough to get one pumped up.

What really surprised me with this release was that it was growing on me, an attribute that is not very common when it comes to thrash records. Songs like "Down To The Bone" and "Where There's Smoke" went past me pretty quickly on the first couple of listens, but has now developed into some of my favourites of the album. This was definitely a plus since I grew tired of several songs on "The Electric Age" quickly, but here, the average life span was improved thanks to a more even set list.

It definitely seems like Overkill keeps on riding that success wave perfectly safe. "White Devil Armory" may not completely live up to the standards that "Ironbound" and "The Electric Age" set up, but it is no doubt that it is a great thrash record that gets the job done very well. So no matter how long you have been into the band, I will guarantee you that you will not be disappointed by this record. It is thrash down to the bone.

Songs worthy of recognition: Where There's Smoke, Armorist, PIG

Rating: 8/10 Bitter Pills

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