Monday, February 8, 2016

Entombed A.D. - Dead Dawn (2016)

These Swedish death metal legends are already hitting us in the face with another album, this being their second since reforming with 2014's Back To The Front. Much as you'd expect, you're getting another exercise in classic death metal that sounds much closer to the band's earlier efforts in Entombed. It's not Left Hand Path, but it's definitely among the same territory. Make no mistake, there are no keyboards, orchestras or clean vocals to be found and certainly no punk elements. Dead Dawn literally sounds like the kind of record that Entombed fans have been craving, regardless of the new edition in A.D. Some people apparently don't like L. G. Petrov's vocal approach on the previous album though, which they may additionally despise here. It just depends on the listener and how they feel about death metal that is delivered with more of a rusted bellow than a downright growl. Petrov obviously seems to be saving his vocal chords on the disc, but I suppose I can't blame him as one can do serious damage to their vocal chords over time when performing this kind of music, especially for as long as he has.

Aside from your normal death metal pummelers, there's a real gem in “When The World Fell” which features some tremendously eerie, yet awesome leads from Nico Elgstrand. Without question, Elgstrand is playing these riffs with as much fright and bite as we'd expect from old, crusty death metal and that seems to be what really sets this album on fire – along with Victor Brandt's pounding bass riffs and Olle Dahlstedt's calculated drumming. All of these men were in Entombed before and they're definitely playing like they're in it again (which they technically still are) and you certainly won't hear me complain about it. From what I've heard from these guys in their years up to this point, something like Dead Dawn just seems goddamned refreshing. I mean, this is death metal whether you like it or not. Perhaps there are some lighter riffs used on tracks like “The Winner Has Lost” and “Hubris Fall” but for the most part, you're getting a burly death metal disc with bone crushers like “Silent Assassin”, “Black Survival” and the title track, which the band can truly be proud of.

When you first listen to Dead Dawn, you may need to listen to it again. It's just not the kind of disc that fleshes itself out on the first listen. It's definitely the kind of performance that you'll appreciate more with repeated listens and you might even discover new things each time as well. I most certainly did. The record comes in and goes out at about the same speed, so you'll definitely want to keep that in mind. It's also only about forty minutes long, which makes it a disc that you'll definitely have to pay more attention to. These Swedes had no intention of sticking around, instead preferring to go in and out with a vengeance that conquers all in their wake. While it's true that some might not be able to get through the vocals, especially during the lighter riff melodies on the disc, there's still enough meat here for those willing to sit down to it. If it's not your thing, I understand. But it definitely sounds more like classic Entombed to me and is a huge upgrade over some of the other records we've heard from them in the past. At least they're still playing death metal this time around, which I think we can be thankful. Swedish death metal is certainly far from dead.

(11 Tracks, 57:00)


Axel Rudi Pell - Game Of Sins (2016)

If this act is new to you, then you've probably been living under a rock. But don't feel bad, as I just discovered the band upon the release of their twenty-five year anniversary DVD, Magic Moments. But what a great place to start, right? Hearing some of the band's greatest tracks performed in a raw live setting truly shows you what they're capable of. Yet now we have Game Of Sins, the band's next in an unbelievable line of heavy metal albums that have spanned throughout the ages. Obviously we can tell where a lot of Axel Rudi Pell's influences come from, and the very heat and fire of the heavy metal gods (some who've become saints, like Dio) can definitely heard on this one.

Just like any good heavy metal record should, this thing truly pounds as a memorable vocal performance from frontman Johnny Gioeli delivers the experience face-first into your auditory nerves, making for the type of heavy metal world that you might have seen adapted in Deathgasm as of late. When you see an armored guitarist standing on top of a mountain with two naked women swooning over him as he shreds a solo, that's exactly what you can expect here. If “Fire” doesn't hit you as hard as it to me, or for some odd reason you can't feel the eighties power of “Sons Of The Night” then you obviously don't get it. But maybe I don't get the scene these days either. While talking with a group of metalheads around my own age, I was a bit surprised to see them call this kind of music “old man metal.” I really kind of thought that heads would embrace the very roots that brought forth extreme metal, but that apparently doesn't seem to be the case anymore. Even so, it won't change my opinion on the power and majesty of a record that has delivered as well as this one has. Game Of Sins is one of those records that can have a powerful title track which extends to nine minutes in length, most of those being moments where a massive solo effort is employed, just like the old days. You know, those “old man metal” days.

There is a ballad here as well, but it's a little too Poison for me and I guess I'm not feeling it as much as the heftier cuts, but I will say that a fine solo effort is utilized here and surely there's an audience for this sort of approach. Another interesting note about Game Of Sins is that there are actually three huge cuts here other than the title track, “Til The World Says Goodbye” which is almost a ballad, but far memorable than the previous one and “Forever Free” which is the album's technical closer. It is also a much slower track, highlighting the fact that Axel and the boys wanted to make a strong, almost AOR friendly album full of real power ballads that drag us kicking and screaming back into the house of hair. I've never found anything wrong with these power ballads, especially when those ballads come with balls.

While not as punchy as one might like, it hits you where it counts and shows that we can still make classic music in today's age that doesn't feel dated. At least not to me. Keep in mind all the heads that call this stuff “old man metal.” But you know what? That's fine with me. Because I'll take my Axel Rudi Pell and age gracefully with the rest of these guys. I'm definitely looking forward to the next one, and the one after that. But before I get too ahead of myself here, I need to mention one very special thing about this record, which is only available on the digipack release. The legendary Jimi Hendrix has indeed been covered here, a definite saint of rock if there ever was one, and the song in particular is the classic “All Along The Watchtower.” The band have definitely given it their own touches though, making it more of a personal interpretation than a karaoke number. This is something Axel has wanted to do for years and is truly excited about having it appear on the album, so definitely pick up that digipack if you want to hear it. In the end, I'm happy with the performance delivered on Game Of Sins and it shows that these guys just keep plowing on without stopping. Here's to many more.

(11 Tracks, 64:00)


Autopsy - Skull Grinder EP (2016)

Holy shit, new Autopsy. But this isn't a new full-length by any means, it just simply seems to be some songs that they were going to put on the new record and decided not to. What's very funny about this, is that there are actually seven cuts on the disc, some of them being almost five and six minutes long. So either Autopsy have written a hell of a lot of songs in the past year or so, or these are cuts from an album that they decided to scrap and just release as an EP. Or they need money. Or something. But whatever the reason for this disc, it's certainly not the band's take on Now That's What I Call Music. As a matter of fact, death metal fans will be quite pleased to know that nothing within this recording is far beyond the realms of the genre and that Autopsy still fucking sounds like Autopsy. There's still a little bit of a death/punk vibe to the whole thing, but I'd expect nothing less. After all, these guys came from the days when punk and death and thrash were mixed together and it didn't have to have a special little title. We just called it fucking death metal, and that's what was important. As far as the performance, I'm being literally assaulted with guitar solos and that familiar garbage mouth vocal approach that I could tell from anywhere. There's a lot of death metal bands out there, but there's only one fucking Autopsy. Seriously folks, listen to all the goddamn solos in the title cut. More please, I'd like another helping. Because that's what metal sounds like. It's why we pick up records like this instead of the new Kanye West or Coldplay. Which are both shit bands, in my opinion. Coldplay will put me to sleep, Kanye trips over his own ego too much, and these guys humbly just beat the living crap out of you. Someone needs to send both those bands a copy of this EP. Knowing Kanye though, he'd probably just sample it and consider it genius. But I'd certainly like to see the look on those limey British bastards in Coldplay when someone begins to play the vinyl of Skull Grinder in their studio. You can figure they're having tea time, when one of them comments, “What on earth is the god awful racket?” Then it just gets louder, as tea cups shatter and the drink scolds their fingers. But that's just the kind of carnage that one can expect from death metal. You know, it doesn't really matter what I say about this disc, because Autopsy fans know what to expect. Maybe we have a few more atmospheres in play here like “Sanity Bleeds” and the instrumental “Return To Dead” but I honestly haven't heard anything on Skull Grinder that doesn't sound like death metal, or that doesn't embody the spirit of death metal music, which means that you're getting an EP that is actually worth buying. I never liked the ideas of EP's or (extended plays) but in this case, you're getting one hell of a tasty appetizer. If you're an Autopsy fan at all, please go pick this one up. It's definitely one of the band's finest moments, as it offers a great variety of death metal that doesn't run into boredom or get too full of itself. Well, maybe it does that – but we'd expect nothing less than grim grime and gore from these legends. If you can't get into this one, then perhaps you'd like to listen to another genre of metal. Or the new Kanye album.

(7 Tracks, 28:00)


Anthrax - For All Kings (2016)

Anthrax have returned and with a real monster here in For All Kings. Pound for pound, this is exactly the kind of disc I was waiting for from these guys and it definitely cements the fact that they can still do it after all these years. The excuse for Worship Music was something to the tune of, “we wrote the music to accompany our new vocalist, Dave” but that's not the case here and you can see and hear the difference. Obviously the band have stepped it up quite a bit and For All Kings definitely sounds more like a thrash album than a modern metal or groove metal disc. There are still groove elements here reminiscent of We've Come For You All, but I actually liked that album and can't say that I mind them. For All Kings is definitely the kind of album that wants to combine thrash with a little more substance and structure, just so long as the choruses come in catchy as saccharine and that they certainly do. 

The record is surprisingly punchy, with a drum performance that really serves as a fine backbone, as Scott Ian's riffs seem to have one foot in eighties thrash, with another in eighties prog metal (think Queensryche). There's also an obvious pop/rock flair here as the chorus melody of “Breathing Lightning” sounds very much like a radio cut. Save for the fact that it's almost seven minutes long. Other than the fact that thrasher “You Gotta Believe” (yeah, it makes me think of Sonic The Hedgehog or some anime theme) are quite long pieces, the record features much shorter and easier to digest pieces amongst what some might call more muscular numbers. Yet I feel it was a fine idea to mix them up as the band have done here. I also feel that there's some obvious lyrical nodes to The Dark Tower here, as with 93's Among The Living. All in all, I think that if you're looking for a thrash disc with very bright and memorable choruses as well as prominent musicianship that sounds like a band that's been doing it for over thirty years, you can't really go wrong with this one. As much as I hated most of Worship Music, this album really feels like the band have picked it back up and delivered a record that I think Belladonna fans are going to be very proud of. No, it's not technically as much of a thrasher as was made back in the old days, but it's definitely the best record I've heard from them since We've Come For You All. I've always been partial to the John Bush era, but with this disc I'm opening up to Belladonna and perhaps that's a good thing. I almost feel like it's a thrashier Sound Of White Noise and a secondary “Black Album” in that respect. For All Kings is the kind of thrash album that still sounds like thrash, but still has an obvious commercial viability and will pick up just as many sales at Wal-Mart as it will in independent record shops. Even if you don't like this album, it's really hard to deny the fact that they really put the pedal to the metal on this one. Sure, there are some slower ballads to be found here like “Blood Eagle Wings” and even some touches of atmosphere that might feel alien on a thrash record. But for a band that was fucking around with electronics and Nu-Metal riffs the last time, I don't feel that I mind this kind of experimentation. 

There's almost a final opinion in the very phrase that I've used about four or five times in this review so far, “I don't feel that I mind” which couldn't be further from the truth. I don't feel that I mind many of the ideas on this record, I don't feel that I mind this record as a whole and I think they could have put out a far worse recording than this one. It's not perfect, but I didn't expect that. I wanted an album that shows what these guys can do with a little bit of snow on the mountains, and that's what we got. It sounds like it comes from experienced musicians, rather than trend-hoppers and I can't say that I mind that either. Welcome back, Anthrax.

(12 Tracks, 59:00)


Friday, February 5, 2016

Emil Bulls - XX (2016)

German alt/nu-metal rockers Emil Bulls have been around for twenty years, yet this is now the first that I'm ever hearing of them. In order to commemorate the band's twenty year anniversary, this “Greatest Hits” compilation was made in a very peculiar way. At first, not having known anything about the band prior, I was going to say that such a disc was a horrible marketing attempt for a brand new recording. But XX is simply not that. Instead of giving you a “Greatest Hits” collection of sorts, the band decided to record many of their songs in a much sappier, lighthearted tone as you'll witness here. It actually sounds kind of goth, to be honest; definitely a mile's difference from the kind of material you'll hear during the much upbeat “Hellfire versions” as they are titled. This, is in essence the band's actual “Greatest Hits” disc, which fans will have to purchase as a special limited edition digipack, of which I am not fond of. If you're going to release a “Greatest Hits” album, then it should come with these lighter “Candlelight versions” to begin with, rather than making people spend extra money for what is the actual product.

Of the many tracks offered here, I'll mention that there is very little difference between the lighthearted (some might say darkhearted) version of “Dear Sadness” and the slightly more upbeat original. The same could be said for “Dancing On The Moon” of which the differences are nearly vacant. However, the differences between the fiercely brackish Hellfire version of “Way Of The Warrior” and the Candlelight version of the track are so much like night and day that it's amazing how it works. It's almost like Emil Bulls have transformed into a completely different band, not unlike something to the tune of Coldplay or U2. The same might be said of “Hearteater” which takes an almost Mudvayne meets Soilwork approach and turns it into a nearly romantic ballad. Look, I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't heard it for myself. Then we have a thrasher with a clean chorus in the form of “The Most Evil Spell” that completely changes shape. I actually had to listen to see if “you fucking coward” was in the piece, which it was. There's actually quite a few F-bombs in this poppy number, making me think of something from Gotye, Finger Eleven or Maroon 5 with a little more bite. I think it's “Worlds Apart” though, that had the greatest effect on me. Though the Candlelight version is quite expectable for such a composition, I really like the balls-out Soilwork influenced Hellfire version of the track. I wish I'd heard that one years ago.

As you can see, XX is definitely something different, but it actually works and I have to say that I'm quite fond of it. From what I've heard on both discs, I can see that Emil Bulls are indeed an act to be reckoned with and it's very surprising that these guys never made it to the US. I can see fans of acts like Breaking Benjamin, Chevelle, Soilwork, Five Finger Death Punch, Motograter and Linkin Park really getting into the material presented here. Just think, twenty years have passed and I had no idea who these guys were and just how damn catchy their tunes are. Sorry folks, but we don't have all the great rock bands here in the states. Give this one a listen to see what you're missing.

(2 Discs, 29 Tracks)


Thursday, February 4, 2016

Akhenaten - Incantations Through The Gates Of Irkalla (2015)

A project of two very talented brothers, Akhenaten is a black/death act similar to that of Melechesh, Nile and SepticFlesh of whom has been covered here. The Houseman brothers have separate duties here, with Jerred handling all of the music and S. Wyatt handling the vocals. It's not an uncommon way to record and is exactly the same way that we do it in Torii. The brothers excel heavily in creating Egyptian atmospheres, especially when there are no vocal elements involved (and there are several of these). Incantations... is the sort of album that balances atmosphere and metal together quite brilliantly, except for just one tiny hiccup. It's very muddy during the metal sections and awfully low in the mix. It feels like a clean production process was used during it's sandy soundscapes and a rougher process was utilized during the metal sections, which seems to make the heavy stuff seem like it had been recorded in a separate box of some sort. My guess is that the metallic sections were recorded with a different program, or perhaps in a different quality, which makes the whole thing seem completely unbalanced as far as sound is concerned. Akhenaten feels like a good band with a whole lot promise, but you can tell that these guys have no real idea what they're doing as far as mixing is concerned and should have hired someone to do that part for them. I'll admit that I'm not all that good at it either and still don't like the quality of the first track on our forthcoming album, as I'm tempted to change it yet again. That's what I think needed to be done here. While Wyatt uses an excellent filter for his vocals that makes things sound inhuman, it can be very tough to hear anything of a metal variety apart from guitars. Perhaps the program they're using for drums is watermarked or something, it has a fuzziness that really thickens the whole thing in a not so memorable way. What is done here at a musical standpoint however, is celebratory and I'd certainly consider it promising. I think that fans of SepticFlesh and Melechesh are going to thoroughly enjoy the piece, but it still has some obvious mixing errors which definitely take away from what would be magnificent as a clearer performance. That being said, this coming from two guys is still quite phenomenal. As far as that SepticFlesh cover, “Anubis” is by and large one of my favorite songs but it's still a pretty tall order for a band just starting out. I'm glad to see that it left such a mark on them however, and hopefully they'll continue to expand and polish this middle eastern style with time.

(12 Tracks, 56:00)


Friday, January 29, 2016

Rules of The Grim Tower (Prime)

The Grim Tower (Prime) is a virtual dumping ground for all of my reviews, good and bad. The entire site will be managed from this Blogger app, so all album art pictures will be found at the bottom of review posts.

There will not be a high social media presence for (Prime) but when I have high speed data, I will be able to update The Grim Tower's .Com domain quickly from posts here. So basically, this is a "you saw it here first" sort of thing. Publicists will get links, but I wish you luck posting these properly to social media. ;)

Bands, there will be no remorse here. This is the unhinged arena, where you are either praised or dejected. I have become a bit more lenient, but I also feel that I have become a bit more fair, which means that I am not going to praise sub-par compositions.

This is not a place to promote trends. It is a place to tear them the fuck apart. This page is sort of like the lone door in a alleyway, where you have to know the password before you can enter.

Yes, we do score here. Do not complain to me in an email/comment if you feel my score was not to your liking. I am a fair, honest and lenient critic. But I know where I stand. You can curse me all you like, I'll not lose sleep over it. That being said, I do not simply tear apart musicians who are trying very hard. I do tear apart musicians who aren't trying, and are piggybacking off of the latest trends. That I've never really felt was metal, even though metal will not be all we review here, of course.

My goal however, is to make sure that most of the non-metal releases get covered in New Noise. Additionally, Tometal will be gathering up my reviews here for use on their site. I'm cool with that. This is just meant to be a small blog in which to more or less "draft" reviews for the big leagues.

Enjoy and please don't get offended. 2015 is over, so let us not have a repeat of that. Grow some balls, take some constructive criticism, or just simply laugh.

"Oh, that guy hates my record. Haha. Fuck that guy."

That's kind of how I look at other reviewers who tear apart records I like. I don't write emails explaining my disappointment. There are few real entitlements in this country (contrary to what some people might have you believe) and a right to an opinion is a necessary one. The more that I flip through the pages on Orwell's 1984, the more I shudder to think of a world where such a website like this and others, might one day be illegal.

Alas, I'm rambling. So once again, enjoy the reviews.

- The Grim Lord