Sunday, March 30, 2014

Gamma Ray - Empire of The Undead (2014)

There were much uncertainty if Gamma Ray's eleventh album, entitled "Empire of The Undead", would even see the light of day. On the 18th of November 2013, Kai Hansen and Dirk Schlächter's studio "Hammer Studio" was burned to the ground in a massive fire. Luckily, most of the recordings was unharmed and the band could eventually complete this album with an album cover that looks like a microscopic close up shot of a bed bug.

Kai has said that "Empire of The Undead" is more of a thrashy album than its predecessors, and it is a statement that I can agree on. This album is probably Gamma Ray's heaviest effort yet and some of the tracks could have also been fitting in a thrash metal band's repertoire. The most obvious thrash influence is in the title track, who has a main riff that is ripped out from Metallica's "Hit The Lights". It is a good speedy track indeed, but when the similarities are that huge, it just kills the song. Another thrashy tracks is the determined, but cheesy "Hellbent" that still has some good riffs, but a very boring and generic chorus.

But do not be afraid power metal fans, Gamma Ray has not completely forsaken its ideals. "Empire of The Undead" is primarily a classic power metal album that do kick ass and gets you pumped up. Most of the tracks, from the soaring "Born To Fly" and the epic "Avalon" to the steam roller "I Will Return", makes sure that "Empire of The Undead" is a true Gamma Ray album to the core. And it is some really good power in these songs indeed.

Sadly the band takes a couple of crooked steps through out this album. Besides from the obvious "Hit The Light" similarities in the title track, the band has also recreated the Queen classic "We Are The Champions" on "Time For Deliverance". It is a disgusting rip-off of a ballad that just makes me sick. And even if I like the heavier sound of this record, it helps making "Empire of The Undead" feel like two albums fused into one. It misses an all important red line throughout this album, which makes it more uneven than it should be.

But despite some of the mistakes throughout this album, I still think that "Empire of The Undead" is still a strong outing from Kai Hansen and his crew. The album packs a powerful punch that is not easy to get rid off and the band does, as usual, a solid work in the performance. The "Master of Confusion" EP gave us a good taste of what was coming, and "Empire of The Undead" definitely delivered.

Songs worthy of recognition: I Will Return, Avalon, Master of Confusion

Rating: 7,5/10 Demonseeds

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Demon Hunter - Extremist (2014)

Do not take the album cover nor the title as hints of what the album will sound like, because you will only get disappointed. Demon Hunter is not anywhere near extreme metal or anything like that, they are instead performing very likable, but generic metal core that tries to be tougher than what it is. "Extremist" is the band's seventh offering, and it is once again a album that will please their fans, but not make them gain more in any significant number.

The problem I have with Demon Hunter is that every time they release an album, the same thing happens. 2-3 songs are really good while the rest of the pack are just fillers. The same goes with "Extremist". Out of the 12 songs in the album, I am only taking a liking towards 3 songs. The first one is "Artificial Light". It is almost sounds like a cover of a Soilwork song, but the band still manages to make it their own with a really nice chorus that is captivating. The second song is "What I'm Not", a song that is Demon Hunter to the bone. It is these kinds of songs that originally got me into the band. If the band did more of these powerful and modern songs, then I would appreciate their work even more. The third song is "Cross To Bear", which is the hardest song on the album (besides from the short opener "Death"). It has a great amount of punch and if you did not listen to the rest of the album, you would think that Demon Hunter was a lot harder of a band than what they actually were.

The rest of the songs are just either boring ballads ("I Will Fail You", "Hell Don't Need Me") or pure fillers ("In Time", "Beyond Me") that wants too much. Is it too much for the band to make a full album with high quality songs? They have the know hows, so why do they not use it on all of the songs? I don't know, maybe they want to please too many at the same time, a move that has kept many bands from truly evolving.

However, I will give credit to the band that they stay true to their sound and at least tries to evolve. "Extremist" is in fact a small step forward from its predecessor, "True Defiance", and it could also be the band's best album up to date. But that does not mean that "Extremist" will be on my top list at the end of the year.

"Extremist" is not a disappointment, but it is neither a pleasant surprise. Just like its predecessors, it has some songs that stands out and shows the band's full potential. However, the majority of songs are just boring fillers that makes you shrug and shake your head. For every album that goes by, I am getting more and more sure that Demon Hunter will never be a world class act. They will just be known as the band that has some good songs and some albums that are good, but nothing over the ordinary.

Songs worthy of recognition: What I'm Not, Artificial Light, Cross To Bear

Rating: 6,5/10 Gasolines

Friday, March 21, 2014

Gus G. - I Am The Fire (2014)

Most of you probably know Kostas "Gus G." Karamitroudis as the guitarist and founder of the power metal band Firewind and also as the current guitarist for the Prince of Darkness Ozzy Osbourne. So that he would take his skills and try to make it with a solo album was to me far from surprising. The only question was what kind of a tactic he would take when going in to this album. Was he going to make an instrumental album? Would he invite a bunch of guests to help him? Would the music be the same as in Firewind or completely different?

Most of the questions were answered almost instantly. Gus G. has invited several guests to this album (Mats Levén, David Ellefson, Jeff Scott Soto, and more) and the album is a mix of both normal and instrumental songs. However, I am not sure about what musical direction this album wants to take. It has a serious issue with split personalities, just like with Slash's self titled debut (although it isn't as bad as it was on "Slash"). It mixes between pure rock ("My Will Be Done", "Just Can't Let Go"), some metal core ("I Am The Fire", "Long Way Down") and some technical instrumentals ("Vengeance", "Terrified"). There is no red line that connects the tracks together, which makes "I Am The Fire" to a sprawling album. The only thing that was really missing is a power metal track, which surprised me that there were none on this album.

There aren't many tracks that impresses me, but the ones that does also shows Gus's qualities with the guitar. The opener (and first single) "My Will Be Done" has a good memorable rock riff and the two part solo is both technical and flows good with the song. The two instrumental tracks ("Vengeance" and "Terrified") are both nice songs that feels well composed and does not contain too much of the good stuff. I also enjoy "Just Can't Let Go" that shows that Gus also know how to play a slower song were the riffing does not take over.

It is when the album goes to more modern metal where Gus G. loses the edge. The title track, who also includes the entire band Devour The Day, is just a generic modern rock song that could as well have been performed by any American wannabe metal band. We also have "Long Way Down" in this category, but it is not as bad as "I Am The Fire", but it is not good either. Alexia Rodriguez may have a decent voice, but listening to this track is an overall boring experience. You have heard this song before, and you damn sure will hear it again soon enough.

If Gus G. ought to be making more solo records, I feel that it would be wise for him to do what Slash did, assemble a permanent crew to help him with the song, not just invite a bunch of guest artists here and there. Because stability is the one thing that "I Am The Fire" is missing, and a stable line-up would solve that problem. Even if the album shows Gus G.'s versatility as a song writer and guitar player, it is not enough to make it lift up to the higher altitudes. So "I Am The Fire" is a decent start for a possible solo career for the virtuoso from Greece, but it makes me longing for a new Firewind record rather than its follow up.

Songs worthy of recognition: My Will Be Done, Vengeance, Just Can't Let Go

Rating: 5/10 Dreamkeepers

Metallica might be up to something... nice

One of the biggest heavy metal bands in the history of man kinds have done a shit ton of stuff the last 5 years. They have started a record company and a music festival, they have released all their songs to Spotify, they have played in Antarctica, they have featured in a 3D-movie and they have collaborated with Lou Reed. The only thing missing is the band's 10th full length album ("Garage Inc." and "Lulu" not included). But we might finally be getting there.

On the first show of their ongoing "By request" tour, the band has presented the new song "The Lords of Summer", a song that is very much alike several songs from their latest album, "Death Magnetic". With its 8 minutes of play time, this song is a meaty, riff filled power package that jumps into the fire without hesitation. And despite the some what boring lyrics, I kinda like this song. I think that "Death Magnetic" was the best album the band has made since "The Black Album", so it only feels natural that the band would continue on the same track, especially since they have taken a lot of sharp turns musically before "Death Magnetic".

I know that it is way too early to say that this is gonna be a great album, but there is no denying that the band is on a roll. The band feels tighter than ever and the only problems so far seems to be the usual things. The band can hit harder, but doesn't and Lars Ulrich is far from a master drummer. But those are things that most Metallica fans have learned to either ignore or accept.

When it comes to the tour, I am expecting it to be some what of a "best of" set list every night the band performs with no surprises what so ever. I will personally not go and see them myself at their only show in Sweden, the new one day festival STHLM Fields (even though I was very tempted since also Mastodon, Ghost, Gojira and more played the same day), but all I hope for the fans that will attended is that the band gets a set list filled with pure thrash and no ballads a la "Nothing Else Matters". They had a set list like that the last time they visited Sweden (Gothenburg 2011, during "The Big 4" tour), I was there and I loved it.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Conquering Dystopia - S/T (2014)

One of the fastest evolving genres in metal right now is the instrumental metal music. Several bands like Animal As Leaders and Scale The Summit has gained some good recognition thanks to their fine musicality and ability to create a story without any lyrics. Then we also have the already established artists like Steve Vai, Buckethead and Joe Satriani that started the genre and has helped it move forward. One of the newer exciting acts in instrumental metal is Conquering Dystopia, a death metal band formed by former Nevermore guitarist Jeff Loomis and current Merrow and Demisery guitarist Keith Merrow. Together with the bassist Alex Webster (Cannibal Corpse) and the drummer Alex Rüdinger (The Faceless, Ordinance), they create a hard hitting quartet that takes the instrumental genre to new undiscovered territory.

Since there are already well experienced artists in Conquering Dystopia, you can be sure that the instrumental skill level is good enough. Keith and Jeff shares brotherly between the solos while Alex R. charges with fast double base and crunching blast beats. And Alex W. is also doing a very solid work, even if he is not as prominent as his companions.

My main concern before listening to the album was if the band could make different types of songs so it all would not sound the same. That concern disappeared quickly after the first listening session. "Conquering Dystopia" offers a good range of songs, from the neck breaking "Inexhaustible Savagery" to the more delicate "Lachrymose". This diversity makes the album a whole lot easier to listen to, and it is also allowing the members to show off their whole registry.

Musically speaking, I would say that "Conquering Dystopia" consist mostly of technical death metal beats with some very small intentions from the djent scene. And the musical structure is clearly stable enough support the songs both individually and as a whole album. But somewhere in the music, I can almost hint that this project initially was considered as a "normal" band with vocals. I am ultimately glad that they did not add a vocalist to the line up since this instrumental approach feels more original and more interesting.

I for one, welcome Conquering Dystopia's arrival and its music. It felt like it was only a matter of time before death metal would do its debut on the instrumental scene, and it feels good that someone has finally made it happen. "Conquering Dystopia" is a very promising start for this newly started project, and I hope that this band is the start of a new era in the instrumental metal scene.

Songs worthy of recognition: Inexhaustible Savagery, Prelude To Obliteration, Lachrymose, Destroyer of Dreams

Rating: 8,5/10 Doomsday Clocks

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Black Sabbath - Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (1973)

Continuing on the road that "Black Sabbath Vol. 4" created, "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" is more of a lighter Black Sabbath album compared to the band's first three releases. But this album is more of a Black Sabbath album than its predecessor since it does not experiment with other types of sound (even though things like synthesizers was experimented in here as well as in Vol. 4). You can expect to find some fine Black Sabbath rock when you will listen to this album, even if it is not as dark as I would have liked it.

The most notable track is of course the title track that has a very catchy riff and a nice doomish middle part. It brings the album to a great start with its nice Black Sabbath groove. And even if the remaining 7 songs do not come up to the same standards as "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath", there are still some songs that makes me appreciate this album more. The ending to "A National Acrobat" is a chaotic beauty in disguise and the technical "Sabbra Cadabra" makes my head move here and there. I also enjoy the diversity in "Killing Yourself To Live", the uplifting "Looking For Today" and the orchestra in "Spiral Architect".

The problem in the album does not lie in the song quality, it lies instead in the instrumental quality. I feel that the band does not get out their full potential into the song. I think that could be because of the massive amount of drugs that the band has been using during the recording of the album, but it could also be the fact that the band chemistry is not as strong as it was in the previous albums. No matter how you twist and turn the question, it is still pretty clear that the band was not 100% fit when they created "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath".

Black Sabbath's 5th offering is all in all a very consistent album with no real low points in sight. It may not be as dark as I want a Black Sabbath album to be, but the groove in the album is so nice that it makes up for most of the lacking darkness. I would not consider this to be the perfect Black Sabbath album, but it could have been the best one so far if the band chemistry was as good as it was in the beginning of the band's career. But hope is the last thing that leaves you, and the music in "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" gives me a lot of it for the next set of albums.

Songs worthy of recognition: Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, Sabbra Cadabra, Killing Yourself To Live

Rating: 8,5/10 Fluffs

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Black Sabbath - Black Sabbath Vol. 4 (1972)

The fourth installment from Black Sabbath would have been titled "Snowblind", but that was refused since it referred to the band's love for cocaine (the band was doing a lot of cocaine during the making of this album). So instead, the album was given the very original name "Black Sabbath Vol. 4", which is not the only problem with it. The band has later admitted that it was during this time that things started to look bad for the band chemistry, and I think that it shows a little on the album.

"Black Sabbath Vol. 4" differs quite a lot from its three predecessors. It is more of a sensitive album with not so much darkness, and it also comes with some surprises, like Tony Iommi's decent piano skills in "Changes". I do not know many Black Sabbath fans that would rather enjoy a more joyful version of the band, and I am certainly not one of them. The darkness in the music was what made Black Sabbath so unique and mysterious. It made it stand out against the rest of the bands during that era.

The music itself has some bright points that makes me smile. There is some nice groove in "Wheels of Confusion/The Straightener" and "Supernaut" while songs like "Tomorrow's Dream", "Cornucopia" and "Under the Sun/Every Day Comes And Goes" brings more of the real Black Sabbath sound to the table. So it is obvious that most of the songs on "Black Sabbath Vol. 4" is of rather good quality, but most of them also does not feel like real Black Sabbath tunes. Take for example "Changes", a classic Beatles inspired ballad that only consists of Tony playing the piano, Ozzy singing and some violins in the background. This is not a Black Sabbath song. This is more fitting in a The Beatles album. So why is it in "Black Sabbath Vol. 4" then? I have no idea, and I will probably will never know.

"Black Sabbath Vol. 4" is far from a bad album, and I can see why some fans love this new side of Sabbath's music. But Black Sabbath to me is when the band embrace the darkness in their music and make some sweet early doom metal. This album is more of a normal rock record, which in it self is perfectly fine, but it gives me the feeling that the album lacks that extra something to really lift it to the top of the mountain..

Songs worthy of recognition: Supernaut, Tomorrow's Dream Under The Sun/Every Day Comes And Goes

Rating: 6,5/10 Cornucopias