Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Haken - Vector (2018)

After spending some time in the past, British progressive metal group Haken is now back in present day, ready to unleash a brand new record onto our ears, and also giving us all a good old Rorschach test. So, what do I see in this album cover? A pair of lungs, an angel, a couple of doves, and also a cool comic book character that I have seen in some film, but cannot quite remember what his name is. Oh well, it is ultimately not what we see that matters, but what we hear, that is another kind of test.

After a strange and eerie opening in "Clear", "Vector" bursts out in "The Good Doctor", which is the shortest and simplest song in the album, but what it lacks in complexity, it makes up for it in hard hitting accuracy and jazz beats. It is for sure a positive start to the record, with a chorus that is catchy as hell, but it is still only a warm up for the onslaught of technicality that is about to hit us.

The following song "Puzzle Box" is pretty self explanatory. The riffs and beats in here by drummer Raymond Hearne, bassist Connor Green, and guitarists Charlie Griffiths and Richard Henshall are doing some wild gymnastics, spreading as much as possible to flex its muscles. The remaining members (vocalist Ross Jennings and keyboardist Diego Tejeida) do not let down either, helping out to make this track extremely versatile and exciting. All six has been playing together since 2014, so they have created a chemistry that is surely impressive, which is why the following song "Veil" is kind of a disappointment, because it has a little too much Dream Theater in it, and not enough of Haken and their signature prog style. It does not help that "Veil" is the longest track in the album, the only one going over the 8 minute mark, which in itself is a disappointment, together with the fact that we only got 44 minutes of new music, small potatoes for a prog band.

Haken gets back on track though with the instrumental track "Nil By Mouth", a diverse track that blends heavy and chaotic riffs with more soothing sections. It is just as dynamic as you would want an instrumental to be, never losing the listener among the sound gymnastics that is happening in seemingly light speed. Do not know if the band has done an instrumental before, but "Nil By Mouth" is impressive no matter what.

To get the listener back down to Earth, "Vector" ends with two pretty calm songs that does not challenge your mind all that much. "Host" is pretty forgettable with its jazz lounge style, but the closer "A Cell Divides" sticks with me quite well. No, it is not one of the more impressive songs of the record, but it is well executed in the build up phase, leading to the most memorable phrase of the record. "It's the beauty of the flaw, the grace of imperfection". Now that I think of it, this lyric line does describe the album fairly well. "Vector" has its flaws, like that it feels too short and that it is a little inconsistent, but it is still an album that is beautiful in its most shining moments. It does not live up to the expectations that both "The Mountain" and "Affinity" has created, but it is still a serviceable album that should please the fans, at least for a little while.

Songs worthy of recognition: Puzzle Box, The Good Doctor, Nil By Mouth

Rating: 7/10 Veils


www.hakenmusic.com/
twitter.com/Haken_Official

More reviews of Haken
Affinity

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Tenacious D - Post-Apocalypto (2018)

The alleged greatest rock band in the world is back after a six year absence, and it seems like they have had quite an adventure during those six years. After all, why the hell would you release a record about your experiences of surviving a post apocalyptic world if you did not actually experience it. Maybe they blew it up a little too much, but then again, I am not American, so I have no idea what the USA was like after Trump got in the White House. I just have to trust the words of good old Jack Black and Kyle Gass.

So "Post-Apocalypto" takes the listener through a wild journey, which includes sex, nazis, sex, space, sex, time travel, and even more sex. Yes, just like with the predecessor "Rize of The Fenix", Tenacious D is once again going way too far with the sex jokes, losing all the impact that these jokes would normally have. I am starting to suspect if the band takes Viagra before going into the recording studio, because the whole first half of the record is just a bunch of loads, blow jobs, dicks, and va-jay-jays. I know I should not take these guys seriously, but come on, grow up a little bit at least.

Trust me though, the story becomes weirder after that, with the D fighting off against KKK members, Donald Jr., Jables Jr., and some weird ass monster called Daddy Ding Dong. Add a Terminator who fights with the D, and a three headed dog named Hope, and you got yourself a jumbled mess of WTF. The whole story is confusing as hell to follow, jumping from one happening to another like Jonathan Edwards takes three steps. The only way to make any sense of it all is if you go on to YouTube, and check out the mini series the band made, filling in the giant plot holes the album left us with, like why Hope started out with two heads but then later he has three, or what the hell a Yo-Yo Ma is.

So with the mini series, the story does make sense, and is admittedly pretty funny, but if you are gonna express this into album format as well, you just cannot leave so many plot holes in, or else the listener will be more lost than the people in Lost. Sure, I do admit that "The Pick of Destiny" had its own share of plot holes, but you could at the very least piece together the story there with some ease. That is something you cannot do with "Post-Apocalypto", there is just too much random shit happening.

Okay, I have talked enough about the story, but the only reason I have done so is that there is barely any music in here to begin with. There is way too many skits in this album, and whenever it finally gets to the music, the band just speeds it through, with no real song being over the 3 minute mark. The worst part is that the music is really good, classic Tenacious D rock that only they can do. The self titled track (and its reprise version) has that blazing "Master Exploder" feel that is so intoxicating, and the band manages to get some nice emotions in there too in "Fuck Yo-Yo Ma", "Hope" and "Making Love". Then we have two curve balls that are so wrong, but feels kind of right. First we have "marCH", an anthem for the KKK that claims that they like BBQs, but hate gays. In today's PC world, I am shocked that this exists, but it is kind of catchy, so..... nope, it is still wrong. Then we have a rap song in "JB Jr Rap", and the rapping is god damn awful, but in a funny way, and the beat itself is pretty sweet. Eh, it beats all the mumble rappers out there at least.

So all of this sums up into a 30 minute record, which is obviously way too short for a band that has had six years to make this record. "Post-Apocalypto" does have its moments of brilliance, but the fact that it is short as hell, have more holes than a Swiss cheese, is confusing as it can be, and that it feels like parts of it were done by a 10 year old makes this whole album a huge disappointment. I like the idea that they went for a concept record again, and the whole "End of the world" story is not bad, but it is presented really poorly unless you have watched the YouTube videos. JB, KG, I love you guys, but if a Terminator wielding a chainsaw-bazooka-machine-gun could not save this album, nothing could.

Songs worthy of recognition: Fuck Yo-Yo Ma, Post-Apocalypto Theme, Take Us Into Space

Rating: 4/10 Daddy Ding Dongs

www.tenaciousd.com/
twitter.com/RealTenaciousD

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Helloween - Chameleon (1993)

So the previous Helloween album "Pink Bubbles Go Ape" might be weird, but I would argue that the band's 5th studio record entitled "Chameleon" is even weirder. Sure, the album cover does not have anything that matches a fish loving pinup girl, but what does this one say to you? It certainly does not scream power metal at least, and that is because this album is pretty far off from the high flying sound the band is known for. Instead, we get to hear a band that feels a little stuck in the 80's, despite this album being released in 1993. Oh lord have mercy on these pumpkins.

A possible reason to why "Chameleon" was so adventurous in its approach was the tensions within the band, which was so bad that both singer Michael Kiske and drummer Ingo Schwichtenberg got kicked out after the promotional tour. All of the songs were written by either Kiske, or one of the guitarists Michael Weikath and Roland Grapow, with no track having more than one writer. This leads to an album that is definitely diverse in its sound, but also extremely disjointed, going close to everywhere in the musical spectre, except for metal. We got rock, pop, prog, and even some country, but there is no sight of the sound that made the band so great in the first place.

So if you have not guessed it already, "Chameleon" is probably the most accesible Helloween album out there, feeling more like a collaboration between Bon Jovi and Guns N' Roses. So I did the only sensible thing, trying to get my mind straight, and judge this record from a blank slate, not thinking that it is Helloween who made it. Guess what, it does not work, it still sounds wrong, like no one band could make this on their own.

Still, I do think there is some good material in here, even if it is strange that it is Helloween performing these songs. "Revolution Now" and "Music" are two nice little pieces of progressive rock that the band handles surprisingly well, like a Queensrÿche light. Then we have the best of the 4 singles from this record, "Step Out of Hell", a steady and catchy rock tune that is easy to enjoy. The big favourite of mine though is "Crazy Cat", just because it is a fun and groovy song that show the funny side of the band, something I would have wished more from in this particular record. The saxophone in that track is a nice bonus as well. It is just a shame that these fine tracks are just a small part of this 1 hour and 11 minute record, which is obviously way too much to take in all at once. Some fat trimming would have done wonders here.

"Chameleon" is definitely deserving of its name, it shifts color here and there after the surrounding, but unlike the animal, this album just does not fit in. No matter how you see it, from whatever angle you may find, "Chameleon" is still kind of a mess, an album made by a group that is divided to their seams. It has its moments, but those are sparse, and it still does not really seem right. Not saying that Helloween cannot make an album that is not primarily power metal, but this particular effort is a no go in so many ways. It is a sad and strange ending to the Kiske era.

Songs worthy of recognition: Crazy Cat, Revolution Now, Step Out of Hell

Rating: 4,5/10 Giants

www.helloween.org/
twitter.com/helloweenorg

More reviews of Helloween
Walls of Jericho
Keeper of The Seven Keys: Part 1
Keeper of The Seven Keys: Part 2
Pink Bubbles Go Ape
Straight Out of Hell
My God-Given Right

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Amaranthe - Helix (2018)

"We all die. The goal isn't to live forever. The goal is to create something that will."

That is the opening line to the Swedish/Danish collaboration Amaranthe's 5th studio effort "Helix", a statement that is most likely true to anyone who is in the music business, to construct something that will be enjoyed for generations to come. While Amaranthe may not have presented us with any masterpieces so far, they have at the very least established a sound and style that no other band out there has replicated successfully. Let us see if they take their trademarked sound to new, breathtaking levels.

To accomplish immortality, Amaranthe has made a shift in the line-up. Founder Jake E left the band last year, and has been replaced by Nils Molin, whom some of you might recognize from the melodic power metal band Dynazty. Not to say anything bad about Jake, he is a good singer and all, but Nils is a clear upgrade. The guy has an incredible range, being this dynamic dynamo that together with female vocalist Elize Ryd and harsh vocalist Henrik Englund Wilhelmsson create a bulletproof symbiosis, the corner stone to the entire Amaranthe sound. It is a slight shame that he does not get much space to work with, but when he does, like in the ballad "Unified" and the speed freak "Iconic", he delivers big time.

Otherwise it is same old song and dance with Amaranthe, it is catchy cyber metal that has a black belt in vocal harmonies. It is obvious however that the two year absent (which is like a life time knowing how frequently the band has released albums) and the member change has given the band a new spark of life. Not that the band have evolved their music or anything, but "Helix" just sounds a lot more fresh than the past two records "Massive Addictive" and "Maximalism". Maybe it is just the sleek production that is even sleeker that fools my mind, but whatever it is, it sounds neat.

The song writing is in the same line, it is classic Amaranthe stuff with few real surprises, but it has more punch to it. The opening quartet of "The Score", "365", "Inferno", and "Countdown" is a brilliant way to start the album, displaying a crash course in what Amaranthe is capable of with some groove, some power, and some bubble gum choruses that stick, but do not annoy. It is unfortunately a little of a flat line album despite all this vibrant power, with the sound changing marginally from track to track. The only stark contrast is when the ballad "Unified" enters the stage, but that is towards the very end of the record, so by that time you are probably already full of that sugary metal, and maybe in desperate need of a detox. "Breakthrough Starshot" stands out as well, but it is a groovy time travel to the 90's that is on the edge of being cringy. A strange habit the band has at least one time per album.

Overall though, I have to say that Amaranthe has delivered a strong and solid effort that fans will embrace with ease. Is it a revolutionary album? No. Does newcomer Nils Molin give the band a new influence? Not really. Will it bring in new fans? Most likely not. However, "Helix" is still a catchy onslaught that is one of the band's best efforts, definitely in line with their first two records. It may be like a donut, a pastry with too much sugar and the most healthy piece is the hole, but it is a tasty treat that you can spoil yourself with from time to time.

Songs worthy of recognition: Inferno, The Score, 365, Unified

Rating: 7,5/10 Countdowns

amaranthe.se/
twitter.com/amaranthemetal

More reviews of Amaranthe
The Nexus
Massive Addictive
Maximalism

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Disturbed - Evolution (2018)

So the new Disturbed album is called "Evolution", ehh? Hahahahahahahahhaahahahahhahaahahahaahhaahahahahaahahahahahaahahah aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah hahahahahahahahahahaahahahaahahahahaahahahahaha... I think I am dying, hahahahahahahahaahahahaahahaha. Okay, that may have been a little mean, but you gotta be honest, Disturbed is one of the last bands that would evolve their music in any significant way, so that they release an album that is called "Evolution" is just silly. But wait, what is this? There is actually some differences in here from the average Disturbed album, like the fact that the always beloved The Guy is missing from the album cover for the first time since their second album "Believe". Maybe there is something to the title after all, or maybe it is just a mirage.

Well, not to spoil anything, but we got both a yes and a no to that. It still sounds like Disturbed with most of their classic tropes, and they are all early displayed as well in the two opening tracks "Are You Ready" and "No More". Both of them are groovy tracks in typical Disturbed fashion, containing some catchy rhythms, an edge that is not too edgy, and a David Draiman who makes his own special growls and sounds, this time without piercings. The band has made tracks that have some more punch to them, but "Are You Ready" and "No More" gives "Evolution" a positive, and familiar, opening that every fan should be pleased by.

After that opening duo, we get to hear what I think is the main reason to why this album is called "Evolution", an acoustic ballad. It does not surprise me one bit that Disturbed tries to make more calmer songs since they gained a bunch of new fans thanks to their decent, but highly overrated cover of Simon And Garfunkel's "The Sound of Silence". As an attempt, "A Reason To Fight" is not that half bad, it has a good message, and as far as ballads go, it is not too annoying. A valid effort from a band that you would think would be unable to create such songs.

Here is the problem though, "A Reason To Fight" is one of four (!) acoustic songs in this 10 track album. This is utter madness, why in the hell would this band do this? Not that I doubt that the band cannot write ballads, but this is simple metal math good folks. One ballad is enough, two is pushing it, and four is just way too many for a simple minded metal head to handle. It is certainly good news for the newer fans, but it is a major disappointment for those who grew up with albums like "The Sickness", "Believe", and "Ten Thousand Fists", with few moments that takes you back to those times (one being a bonus track called "This Venom", why was this one left out of the main line-up?).

The ballads are one part, but the rest of the songs (outside the opening two) just seems to lack energy. It all feels a little too constricted in the song writing, displaying a band that maybe is aiming more for radio air time than showing originality. Everything in here definitely sounds like Disturbed, but with an added, weaker filter that is extremely far from the in your face attitude that we are used to see from this band. The ultimate price for this approach is an album that is incredibly boring to listen to. A sluggish record that is certainly different than its 6 brothers, and it is unfortunately not for the better. Disturbed may call this an evolution, but I call it a major regression

Songs worthy of recognition: No More, Are You Ready

Rating: 3/10 Saviours of Nothing

www.disturbed1.com/
twitter.com/disturbed

More reviews of Disturbed
Immortalized

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Gama Bomb - Speed Between The Lines (2018)

Knowing the Ireland thrashers Gama Bomb and their quirky humour, it is hard to decipher if the name of their 6th studio effort is talking about robotic athletes that shatters every record Usain Bolt possess, or if it is just a fun word play of taking amphetamines while preparing another string of cocaine. No matter what it means, you can be sure that there is one thing that we can take from "Speed Between The Lines", and that is that we are certainly gonna get our daily dose of lightning fast metal.

So when the album was announced, the band promised some ass-melting metal, and while the music did not do exactly that, it is most definitely another thrashtastic effort by the lads. Sure, it is not anything different from what the band have done previously, and they seemingly only know two types of tempo (fast, and faster), but this familiar feeling is still fun as hell to witness, even more so since the whole album is a bite size 35 minutes, just enough to satisfy, and not too much so you will not end up in a drowsy thrash coma. The same can be said about all individual songs, with all lying somewhere between 2,5-4 minutes in length.

The sound is not the main focus, it is instead the humorous insanity in the lyrics that makes you come back to the band time and time again. Gama Bomb has a simple strategy, they mostly sing about what they love, everything from early horror tropes, kinky fetishes, partying hard, and... Kurt Russell? Okay, we got ourselves a homage song to the actor Kurt Russell in here, and nothing against the guy, but why? Kurt is a fine actor and all, but has he really made any iconic performances during his career? I guess "Escape From L.A." and "Tango & Cash" are some of his most famous roles, and recently he was in both "Guardians of The Galaxy Vol. 2" and "The Hateful Eight", but that does not seem enough to warrant a good and catchy thrash song with some brilliant K-U-R-T chantings in his honor. It reminds me of Psychostick and their homage to Bruce Campbell, which leads me to believe that Gama Bomb have a sick fascination of Kurt. Would not surprise me if they get a tattoo of his face... on their face's.

Besides that awkward weirdness, there is still a lot to enjoy with this album. The lyrics will give you some good chuckles here and there, if you can keep up with the blazing speed it is being presented in that is, and it is all enhanced thanks to singer Philly Byrne. His demented vocals have that perfect mix of power, range, and insanity that can make any Gama Bomb song come to life in a spectacular way. The rest of the guys certainly do a good job too, trying to out speed each other in a way that would make a Formula 1 car seem sluggish.

The only problem with this album is that it is not made to last very long. It speeds through your mind, giving you a nice adrenaline rush that you would do best in not taking in multiple times a day. It is another thrashing fun record by the Irish lads that cements their spot as one of the main bands in their genre, but "Speed Between The Lines" is not an album that will necessarily define the band, nor thrash itself, in 2018. That is okay though, as long as both we and the band are having fun, that is more than enough. If you want a quick fix for that frowning face, then this record is just the cure you need.

Songs worthy of recognition: Give Me Leather, 666teen, Motorgeist, Kurt Russell

Rating: 7,5/10 Faceblasters

www.gamabomb.net/
twitter.com/GamaBombSpeaks

More reviews of Gama Bomb
The Terror Tapes
Untouchable Glory

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Manic Movie Month: Jigsaw

In last year's MMM, I took a look back at all the previous movies in the "Saw" franchise as some sort of a preparation for the release of the not so long awaited 8th movie in the series. I still think "Saw" is a brilliant concept, a man that went through a life changing event, setting a goal to make people bring out something humans in general has lost in recent years, the urge to survive and live, but after all the pointless sequels with boring characters, confusing stories, and over the top torture porn, I had grown pretty tired of the series. Therefore, I had a choice to make, either watch the new movie entitled "Jigsaw" in theaters, risking spending my money on another dumb sequel, or wait for it to pop up on any of the streaming services. Well, the wait is over, "Jigsaw" is here, and I am finally ready to vomit my opinion on it over all of you.


Spoiler warning from here on out

With seven years since the last "Saw" movie, you would think that the crew had taken their time to create a non confusing story that actually makes sense, and they did... sort of. It all starts with the police chasing down criminal Edgar Munsen. The chase leads to a rooftop where Edgar draws out a remote control, stating that he has to follow the rules of the game, either he dies, or five other people risk being killed. Detective duo Halloran and Hunt eventually reach the scene, tries to shoot the remote away, but not before Edgar triggering the game somewhere else. It is now up to Halloran, Hunt, and pathologists Logan Nelson and Eleanor Bonneville to solve the mystery over the dead bodies that appear, and the seemingly strange connection to the Jigsaw killer John Kramer, who has been dead for 10 years.

I gotta say, the movie does build up to an interesting mystery to why the games have started again, and even if I did not for a second believe that Jigsaw had risen back from the dead (especially since he has been dead for the last 4 movies), it does make you wonder who is the real killer. Unfortunately, I knew this was a "Saw" movie, so that meant that there were going to be a massive twist at the end, so you spend most of the movie trying to figure out what the twist is going to be. This shift of focus is not exactly to the film's advantage, and it is fairly easy to see where it all is going to end, but I do appreciate that they tried to make this a legit mystery that does not rely on any of the previous movies, with not a single flashback in sight (except for what kind of bad stuff the victims did, but that is expected).

I also like that the characters are not just hollow shells of human beings, but that they all have personalities. Halloran is a shady cop who is probably too mad for his own good, Logan is a former soldier that just lost his wife who got murdered, Eleanor is a woman with dark undertones, and Hunt... well, we do not get to know much about him, but I do not care, because he seem like a cool dude, looks a little like a younger Bernie Mac. So the characters are far from perfect, but they are still a step up from previous installments.

We have focused on the detectives and their work, so let us shift our focus to the other part of the movie, the five people who are in the main game. It goes back to the "group" formula that was previously used in "Saw II" and "Saw V", where they have to help each other to win the game, a set up I prefer a hell of a lot more than the "lone guy tries to help a bunch of strangers" formula. All four victims (the fifth one is gone after the first test) have personalities, but none of them are anything really special that we have not seen before. I do feel like Ryan is kind of an egotistical asshole though, a little too aggressive in his erratic behaviour.

How about the traps then? That is actually another thing I really like about the movie, the traps are much more scaled back, and not so over the top as before. They are simple traps that demands simple solutions, like cutting yourself on a saw blade to free yourself, or figuring out how much money you stole from someone so you can pick the right syringe. The way that leads to some of these traps are kind of dumb though, but then again, the movie cannot be too linear, so I will allow it.

Do you even English???
What I will not allow though is pure stupidity, and yes, we got loads of it in this movie as well. Stupid victims have been an achilles for the franchise since the second movie, something that makes my blood boil every time. In this barn they are in (btw, love that they are not in some sterile old hospital or warehouse, a nice change of scenery), there is a huge door with the words "No exit" written all over it, and what do they do? Ryan tries to exit it of course, ending with him getting his leg caught in some wire trap. Fast forward a bit into the movie, and Anna does the exact same thing, despite her clearly stating time and time again that they have to follow the rules of the game. Seriously, what the hell were you thinking? Then we have Mitch who is hanging on top of this blender thing and have to reach a brake at the bottom to free himself. But that is okay, because Anna use her skills as Spiderwoman, climbing up and stopping the machine temporarily, so they both start to cheer. What the hell are you doing? Just reach that god damn brake, and free yourself instead of prematurely celebrating! Whoops, too late, the machine started again and you have been blended (Mitch dust, don't breath this). There are some other stupid moments, but I cannot mention them all here, or we would be here forever, so let me get to the end of my thoughts.

The truth is, I was kind of entertained throughout the entire movie. Yes, this is far from a cinematic masterpiece, and there are several dumb moments in here, but this is probably the most well constructed "Saw" movie since the third installment. My expectations were not that high, so it might be affecting my overall verdict on this film, but after going through all that confusing shit in the last 4 sequels, this minimized change of pace is more than welcome. The acting may still be average at best (even if Tobin Bell is great as always as Jigsaw), the whole plot is far from a mystery, and it is far from frightening, but as far as a "Saw" movie goes, it is actually not that half bad.

Rating: 6,5/10 Billy puppets

Oh, and if you wonder where I would put this movie amongst the other installments, here is a quick power ranking.

1. Saw
2. Saw III
3. Saw II
4. Jigsaw
5. Saw VI
6. Saw V
7. Saw IV
8. Saw 3D

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Immortal Guardian - Age of Revolution (2018)

I do not really know why, but the album cover for the debut of the Texas band Immortal Guardian reminds me of the movie "Cloud Atlas". The movie is set in different time periods, but there ends the similarities really, no floating castles or Mayan princesses, neither human or robotic. Let us hope that it is not an indication on what my eventual verdict of "Age of Revolution" will be, because even if I was intrigued with that movie, it was still too long and confusing for me to fully comprehend (although I did love Korean Neo, what a bad ass).

Fortunately, this album is neither long, nor complicated. Clocking in at a solid 48 minutes, this quartet is presenting us with what they call "Super metal". Well, I would rather call it power metal deluxe, a type of the genre that few bands manage to pull off without sounding too cheesy. It is clearly obvious that the group has taken some inspiration from fellow countrymen DragonForce, but hear this, they skipped out the parts where they are going fully bananas in the solos and go "Woah-oh-woah-oh" before the last chorus, and replaced them with actual song writing. Yep, it sounds a little too good to be true, but they did it.

To make this all come together, you need good musicians, and we certainly got some here. Vocalist Carlos Zema seems like he fits right in the genre, screaming with such power and confidence, making every note seem like it is a piece of cake to sing them. We also got a great balance between the blazing fast guitar and the complementary keyboards, and that is because Gabriel Guardiola handles both, creating a symbiosis that is beautiful to witness. Let us also not forget Cody Gilliland's hard hitting drumming style, and the vibrant bass attack of Thad Stevens, rounding out a more than solid performance.

All the members aside, it is still the songs that steal the show, with most of the 9 tracks taking full advantage of the attention. The choruses in this record are incredibly strong and very sing along friendly, certainly worthy of making a fool out of yourself by shouting. There is a lot of adrenaline in the music, but it is surprisingly controlled enough so that it does not get too silly or insane. It is just great song writing through and through, keeping a level of intensity that is addictive as hell, and also fun. Man, it is gonna be tough to pick one song from this record that is gonna make the best song of the year list. It is right now a dead race between all of the songs I will list in the bottom.

While I absolutely love this record, it is most certainly not a perfect debut. Some more variation could have been welcome (one slightly slower song ain't gonna cut it), and I really do not like that the band call themselves a "super" metal band, just way too cheesy for my taste. It does not matter that much though, because Immortal Guardian has unleashed an impressive debut that every lover of power metal cannot afford to miss. It has been quite some time since I found a band that had so much intensity and power to them, while also maintaining a sense of control. "Age of Revolution" may not be a full on revolution in metal music, but it puts a fresh take on the genre that is much needed. No bullshit, all power, total bliss.

Songs worthy of recognition: Never To Return, Aeolian, Stardust, Hunters, State of Emergency

Rating: 9/10 Zephons

www.immortalguardian.net/
twitter.com/igmetal

Sunday, October 7, 2018

From Worst To First: Iron Maiden

My discography reviewing journey took me from a progressive metal band from 'Murica, to what is arguably the biggest metal band that has ever existed. It is insane to think how huge Iron Maiden has become during their 40+ year history, starting out as a scrappy young band from Leyton, Great Britain, eventually becoming an arena touring behemoth that more or less every metal head look up to with a big smile on their faces.

What is it with Maiden that makes them so great though? Well, it could be the simple facts, like the amazing musicianship, the insane amount of fun that is put into every track, and the massive passion that all members have for metal music in general. Yes, it is just something with the band's unique style of blazing guitars, high powered live performances, and catchy song writing that speakes to my, and a ton of others, heart. There is certainly no other band that has so many passionate fans out there. For instance, I know a bunch of guys that go to every show they do that is even close to the Swedish borders, that buy every merch, every special versions of the album. They love other bands as well, but their love for Maiden is out right mental.

While I also love Maiden with all my heart, I still know that the band is not perfect, at least when it comes to their studio efforts. They have made 16 so far, and all of them have their personal charm, but the question still remains, which one is the best, and which ones are the rest. Time to rank all the Iron Maiden full length records (iow no live albums or compilations included).

16. The X Factor

It seems like most people actually like this album, and I honestly cannot blame them, because there are some neat things in here. It has a bunch of great tracks like "Man On The Edge", "Judgement of Heaven", and "Lord of The Flies", and for a first attempt, Blaze Bayley sounds pretty good. The problem I have with this record is that it is too dark. Everything here is too dark, the tone, the production, the themes, even Harris' bass sounds too dark. It just does not feel like a Iron Maiden release, it feels like some other band did it instead. Oh well, if you like it, that is great for you, but I cannot bother to get back into this album. After all, there are 15 records out there that are better.

Eddie check: Poor Eddie, tortured beyond belief. Sure, he always look like he stubbed his toe on something, but this is a gruesome image that is sort of cool, but also show all of the problems of the album. 5/10

15. No Prayer For The Dying

Every time I try to think of the Maiden discography on the top of my head, I always seem to forget this album. Sure, it had the tough task of taking Maiden into the rough 90's, but it did so with some of the most bland material they have ever written. The band took a huge step backwards in their musical development, settling for simpler songs with hooks that surely stick, but are really teetering on the verge towards being annoying. Nah, I am glad that I keep forgetting this album, there are after all much better Maiden efforts out there.

Eddie check: It is interesting to see Eddie in what looks to be a horror movie poster, but otherwise it is one of the least interesting album covers. Eddie is fairly normal, and even if his pose is dynamic, it just looks like he is reaching out for his jacket. Colors are nice at least. 4/10

14. Virtual XI

This is a strange album, to say the least. With more opportunities for Blaze Bayley to contribute in the song writing, "Virtual XI" got some sort of a sci-fi treatment, which does not always work. It has a bunch of interesting ideas, and the whole tone of the record helps it get past its older brother "The X Factor" with ease, but it still does not have enough quality in it to really grip me. It is a valid attempt for a band that was a little lost during the time, but this album is just like the technology of virtual reality in general, a wishful thought that just does not work... at least in this day and age, maybe in the future.

Eddie check: Seems like Eddie is living his Freddy Krueger dreams here, being all evil and shit. He certainly looks intimidating, and his bony fingers are a nice little touch that adds to the full image. Not sure what to think about the inverted mohawk thing though. It looks awful, but at the same time it is creepy. 7/10

13. Fear of The Dark

Honest to god, do we know any other track from this record than the title track? Well... we got "Afraid To Shoot Strangers"... oh, and "Be Quick Or Be Dead" is in it as well. It is still painfully obvious though that beside from the ever popular live staple, "Fear of The Dark" is an album filled with okay songs that you can absolutely listen to, maybe even sing along to as well, but none of them are anything special. Looking back at it, it is not that surprising that Bruce left the band after this effort, because Maiden had lost all momentum during that time, and needed some kind of fresh start. Well, it completes the quarter-fecta, with all 90's records taking the four lowest spots on my list.

Eddie check: Eddie as a tree? Okay, I understand that they are trying to make him creepy again here, but this does not work at all. He looks goofy as hell with that out of control hair and beard, making me laugh instead of cowering with fear. Hell, that tree in Pocahontas is way scarier than Eddie here (then again, Disney has a pretty good track record scaring children). 3/10

12. A Matter of Life And Death

Close to everything about this record is rather disappointing. From the boring album cover, to the overall grey atmosphere, "A Matter of Life And Death" just seemed like a safe bet from the band, not taking any wild chances at all. Sure, the first single was the challenging "The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg", and the ultra epic "Brighter Than A Thousand Suns" does bring a flash bang of hope to this album, but it did not help enough with a tracklist that was quite front heavy, putting all of the long and exhausting songs in the back. The true prog phase of the band probably started with this record, but it was not perfected here.

Eddie check: Eddie is reduced to an emblem... what the actual hell? Would have been cool to see him as some rotten war hero, but nope, just an emblem. GOD DAMMIT!!! 0/10

11. Killers

People keep discussing which of the two Paul Di'Anno albums are the best, but for me, there is no question in that matter. While "Killers" is a natural progression for the band both musically and in production quality, it still feels a little like a disappointment with several songs being forgettable, and that the jump from first to second record is not to great. It is mostly more of the same, and for a band that eventually would make a career of evolving as musicians as they go, "Killers" is just a small step that is barely noticeable. I hope that Eddie is not ready to murder me for those words, he looks pretty angsty already...

Eddie check: This is a classic Eddie image, with him looking scary, holding a bloody axe, and a victim clinging onto his shirt. This is probably high on a lot of people's lists, but not mine. Not Eddie's fault, but he is just way more interesting in other versions. Sorry, not sorry. 6/10

10. Piece of Mind

Out of all the albums from Maiden's golden era, "Piece of Mind" is the only one that I just do not get. Sure, "The Trooper" is impossible to resist, and it has a good amount of creative thought put behind it, but I just do not think this is a great record. For me, it lacks both power and momentum, having a sluggish feeling that really no other Maiden album has, and it is so strange. It lacks star power as well, with the lesser songs being lesser than usual, and the highlights standing fairly low. By no means a bad record, it is one I would easily skip if I had any other album from the classic era readily available.

Eddie check: Another classic cover, and setting Eddie in an asylum with a straight jacket just feels right. After all, he is a strange creature that no one understand, perfect for scared people to lock away somewhere far away. Minus points though for him blending into the background. 7/10

9. Dance of Death

I really cannot seem to make up my mind over "Dance of Death". First I hated it, then I loved it, and it goes back and forth like that depending on the time. Right now, I find it to have a bunch of positives, like some incredibly catchy sing along tunes, but that it still falls flat in the end. It does not feel like a complete album, one that you would come back to time and time again. Do not be surprised if I change my mind over this record again some time in the future, but as it stands now, it is just a run of the mill Maiden record, which is still not that awful actually.

Eddie check: What is this CGI abomination? This is easily the worst album cover the band has ever presented, and the only redeeming quality is Eddie himself, but even he is disappointing. Finally he is depicted as the Grim Reaper himself, and he is only to be found far away from our sights? WHAT WERE THEY THINKING??? 3/10

8. The Final Frontier

This spaced out record has always been a personal favourite of mine, one that I for some reason keep coming back to. Yeah, I understand that the two main singles "El Dorado" and the title track are boring as hell, and that it has some other lesser parts, but as a whole, this album just works. I love the opening intro "Satellite 15" that shoots us straight into space, and the two longest songs of the record, "The Talisman and "When The Wild Wind Blows" are some of the most fluent tracks Maiden has ever done. You can fight me all you want about this one, but I will still come back to this record time and time again. It just has that effect on me.

Eddie check: Without any competition, this is the most imaginative Eddie of them all, and he looks awesome. Just look at all those textures, all those details, and the fact that it still looks like Eddie is just amazing. I am sure that if The Predator or a xenomorph faced off against this beast, they would be pretty frightened. 9/10

7. The Number of The Beast

"The Number of The Beast" is an all time classic, one that has been in countless "Top albums of all time" lists, and it lifted the band to heights that the members thought were impossible to reach. So why is it only at number 7? While the album is with no question great, it is inconsistent as hell. The great three ("Hallowed Be Thy Name", "Run To The Hills", and the title track) are certainly amazing, and I also like "The Prisoner" as well, but the rest of the songs are ranging from okay to boring. It is close to impossible for me to play this record without skipping any songs, and for that reason alone, it loses a bunch of points in my book.

Eddie check: What Eddie lacks in originality, he takes a ton of it back in just pure intimidation. Just look here, he is bigger than the freaking devil, and it even looks like he is controlling him. It is such an iconic image, how can you not at least respect it. 8/10

6. Iron Maiden

Ahh, the original record. It may be rough on its exterior, crude in its execution, and it might even sound a little like a punk record (even if Steve Harris would deny that fact all the way to his grave), but there is a charm to it that makes it irresistible. Almost everything with this record made the band stand out in 1980, like their fast guitars and provoking vocals. It laid the foundation for the band, and it did so with a lot of dirt and grime, and also some blood and sweat. The tears was left for the audience who heard this would be superpower for the first time.

Eddie check: The original, the one and only, Eddie The Head. It is a classic look that created a character that is almost bigger than the band itself. I just love that he looks like a combination of a zombie, a heroin addict, and that guy from the Edvard Munch painting "The Scream". Hell, even the light post looks like a giant needle, a classic that never fades. 7/10


5. Brave New World

The Bruce comeback record may not be the brightest shining star in the Maiden discography, but it is sure as hell a damn fine record with some really memorable songs. It was a statement from the band that they were back in their old ways, creating awesome music, but also music that would award the listener if they put their mind into it. Difficult songs like "Dream of Mirrors" and "The Thin Line Between Love And Hate" was mixed in with bangers like "Out of The Silent Planet", "The Wicker Man", and the title track, creating an album that went back and forth between what made Maiden great, and what would keep them from losing the edge. Add in an emotional semi-ballad in "Blood Brothers" as well, and you get one hell of a record.

Eddie check: I like the idea the artist had here, depicting Eddie as an outer world being that constantly watches the world from the clouds. It is a shame though that we just get the face, and not much more. Oh well, I bet Eddie would make a great cloud Mufasa in the live action adaptation of "The Lion King". 6/10

4. The Book of Souls

Now that three years have gone since the release of "The Book of Souls", I can see that I kind of overreacted in my review of it. It has its fillers, and the double album format is not really fitting for the band. Still, I stand by my statement that this record is the best Maiden record since "Seventh Son...". The great parts completely overshadows the more faulty parts, and the musicality in here is just at an fantastic levels. Just the fact that the 4 songs in here that are over 8 minutes in length are of such a high quality is just amazing. This is truly an achievement by the band, to make such a challenging record and still come down nearly flawlessly with it, there is just not that many bands out there that would be able to pull this one off.

Eddie check: I really do love the design of Eddie in this album. He works really well as a native Mayan warrior that only wears a loin cloth, some piercings, and some war paint. The red and black eyes are an incredibly nice touch as well. It is just a shame that we only get to see him from the chest and up on the cover, in the most boring album cover Maiden has ever had. How could you waste such a cool character? Shame! 8/10

3. Powerslave

Being a classic fan favourite, the powerhouse "Powerslave" ends up taking the bronze medal, and it does so thanks to its wide range of awesome songs. From the super hits "Aces High" and "2 Minutes To Midnight" at the beginning, to the 13 and a half minute mastodon epic "Rime of The Ancient Mariner", this is an extremely solid record that is a pure joy ride in all of its 50 minutes of run time. I also love the Egyptian theme that the band has here, it really gives the album a personality that is hard to match. Just a bummer that they did not went 100% with that theme.

Eddie check: This is simply perfection. Not only because Eddie already resembles a mummy in his normal looks, but him as an Egyptian pharaoh who has gotten his own giant statue is just marvelous. It is as majestic as majestic can get, a true leader and king. 10/10

2. Seventh Son of A Seventh Son

Knowing where Maiden has gone with their musical direction, "Seventh Son..." was like looking into a crystal ball to see and hear the future. It is a progressive metal album in all its meanings, seeing the band experiment a lot with longer songs, more complex structures, and themes that demands a lot of attention and focus. It still has that classic Maiden flare though, displaying lots of great choruses, playful instrumental arrangements, and a Bruce that is all over the place, in a good way. It is a masterful record that is both a progressive masterpiece, and a Maiden masterpiece. An incredibly nice double whammy.


Eddie check: With such an imaginative concept, we need a creative Eddie. So let us take away half his body, put a candle on top of his head, and let him hold his own stomach sack that what I assume holds the seventh son. Oh, and make him float as well. BRILLIANT! 7/10

1. Somewhere In Time

It might be a surprising choice for most, but for me, this is the ultimate Maiden record. From top to bottom, we are treated with everything that makes the band so awesome. We got tons of imaginative riffs, catchy choruses as far as the ear can hear, and a great variety of different tunes, from the long and rangey "Alexander The Great (356-323 BC)" to the galloping attack of the title track. This record is the true definition of the motto "All killer, no filler", with all of the 8 tracks fulfilling a purpose. Even the lesser tracks like the overrated "Wasted Years" and the simplistic "Deja-Vu" are still bangers that I could listen to time and time again. It is just a shame that this album seems to often be overshadowed, with few songs ever appearing on the live setlists. No matter what, this is still a record that is 51 minutes of epic greatness in musical form, one where the band truly displays all their good qualities. Simply put, it is amazing.

Eddie check: I absolutely love the creativity and details on this particular Eddie character. He certainly seems like he comes from the future, ready to beat the shit out of Skynet. Pose is a little weird though, is he stretching? 9/10

And as a bonus, here are my 10 favourite Iron Maiden tracks, in alphabetical order

Brighter Than A Thousand Suns
Oh, it is bright alright, you need sunglasses to listen to this one.

Fear of The Dark
The live classic, not as good in studio version, but still epic as hell.

Hallowed Be Thy Name
The ultimate epic, a perfect song from start to finish.

Phantom of The Opera
If the musical with the same name consisted of songs like this one, maybe I would see it.

Powerslave
Holy balls, this track would make every tomb in Egypt shake with all mummies headbanging to it.

Rainmaker
I tried playing this song during the summer over and over again, but it did not result in any rain. Sounds good though.

Seventh Son of A Seventh Son
A brilliant title track that showed the ultimate progressive side of the band.

The Evil That Men Do
Another "Seventh Son..." track, but the exact opposite. Catchy, short, and simple.

The Loneliness of The Long Distance Runner
As a guy who hates running, I understand the feeling this song tries to emote. Fuck running.

The Talisman
A forgotten gem from "The Final Frontier" that has so much brilliant execution in it.

And as a bonus bonus, since I went through all the Eddie's, here is a quick ranking of them

16. Emblem Eddie
15. Reaper Eddie
14. Tree Eddie
13. Charging Eddie
12. Tortured Eddie
11. Murder Eddie
10. Cloud Eddie
9. Virtual Eddie
8. Floating Eddie
7. Crazy Eddie
6. Original Eddie
5. Giant Eddie 
4. Mayan Eddie
3. Future Eddie
2. Alien Eddie
1. Pharaoh Eddie

Stay metal!
Robert "Sharkruisher" Andersson

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Slash - Living The Dream (2018)

With this Guns N' Roses reunion still going strong, it is easy to forget that Slash actually have a fully functioning solo project together with Alter Bridge singer Myles Kennedy and his Conspirators. The project was on a roll when they had to force a hiatus, gaining a respectable slew of fans and a steady flow of radio air time. Now that the guitarist with the sunglasses, nose ring, and top hat turns his focus back to make his fourth solo album, it might be that his old band is still on his mind.

Yes, I might be crazy in saying that "Living The Dream" might be the true follow up to the two "Use Your Illusion" albums that fans have been waiting for so long. Not to say that any of the three previous Slash records (or any other album from his Snakepit or Velvet Revolver) did not have a vein of Guns N' Roses in them, but this records feels a little more wild and raw than what we have previously heard from this constellation. Some songs like "My Antidote" have this attitude to it that is just so confident, which is certainly very reminiscent of good old GNR.

"Living The Dream" is otherwise not much of a surprise if you have followed Slash in recent years. It is catchy ass rock with a lot of sweet guitar riffs and licks all over the place, but not to the degree where it becomes full on guitar wanking, it stays just under the acceptable levels. Take a song like "Sugar Cane" for example, where Slash just cram in a lot of meaty guitar gymnastics in, but it never takes away from the other guys and their effort (especially Myles Kennedy, who is his usual magnificent self), therefore we get a groovy and catchy song that spices up the otherwise sluggish second half. The balance in this album is really on point, from start to finish.

Even if the slower songs on the records help balance it all out, those songs are still the weakest of the records. The main problem is that they are not memorable at all, you forget about them as soon as they are over, which is a big disadvantage in an album that is filled with catchy tracks like "The Call of The Wild" and "Mind Your Manners". Despite Myles' brilliant vocal performance, these songs are mostly luke warm, not adding too much to elevate. Yeah, so do not expect a new "Civil War" or "Don't Cry" in here, or else you will be disappointed.

Fortunately, we got enough rock power in here to last some time, all adding up to one of the more complete Slash records so far, giving "Apocalyptic Love" a true run for its money. This is through and through a really enjoyable record, showing a guy who is doing exactly what the album title says, just enjoying himself and pouring that enjoyment all over us in CD/LP/streaming format. I can't believe I am saying this, but this album has actually made me excited for a possible Guns N' Roses album in the future, because Slash is on a roll.

Songs worthy of recognition: Mind Your Manners, The Call of The Wild, My Antidote, Slow Grind

Rating: 8/10 Sugar Canes

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