Friday, May 23, 2014

Casualties of Cool - S/T (2014)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 7/10 Bones

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Black Sabbath - Heaven And Hell (1980)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 9,5/10 Wishing Wells

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Sabaton - Heroes (2014)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 6/10 Smoking Snakes

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Epica - The Quantum Enigma (2014)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 8,5/10 Victims of Contingency

Monday, May 5, 2014

Devil You Know - The Beauty of Destruction (2014)

Another super band? Oh boy, that is just what the metal community needed... not really. Anyway, the band was created in 2012 by the drummer John Sankey (Fear Factory, Divine Heresy) and guitarist Francesco Artusato (All Shall Perish). They were later joined by Howard Jones (ex-Killswitch Engage), Ryan Wombacher (Bleeding Through) and Roy Lev-Ari (Hiss of Atrocities).

When I am reading the line-up, I am trying to figure out what type of music these guys will offer us. My first thought was that it would be some kind of heavy metal core, which later on proved to be right. "The Beauty of Destruction" is filled several heavy parts, especially in the guitar work, but it is blended together with catchy and melodic song structures that appeals to the radio stations. It doesn't surprise me that Devil You Know is more Killswitch Engage than All Shall Perish, but I would have expected something more original from these experienced musicians.

The music itself is not overly impressive, but it has it strong points. The epic and heavy "It's Over" is the most original and interesting piece in the entire album, while "A Mind Insane" impresses with its doomish segments and complete insanity. But the album also has some good mainstream quality in songs like "Seven Years Alone" and "For The Dead And Broken". This makes "The Beauty of Destruction" into a well diverse album that does not get boring to listen to.

The overall quality however is far too unstable to be taken seriously. Boring tunes like "A New Beginning" and "Crawl From The Dark" are being mixed with more interesting tracks like "The Killer" and I Am The Nothing", which in the end makes me loose the interest on the album. I know that these guys are experienced, so it shouldn't be such a problem to expect a stable album from them. But it seems like the band does not really know where they want to go with their music. Do they want to go mainstream or do they instead want to focus on creating heavy and innovative music? That is a question that must be answered before the next album if they want to continue this project.

I agree with Devil You Know that destruction can be beautiful, however "The Beauty of Destruction" is far from the prettiest album released this year. It has some good intentions that gives some hope for this project in the future, but just like any other super band, it falls in comparison with the member's past/current main bands. Devil You Know is one of the better "super" bands that has emerged during the 21st century, unfortunately, that does not say much about their overall quality within the band, even though "The Beauty of Destruction" is a promising debut.

Songs worthy of recognition: A Mind Insane, Seven Years Alone, It's Over

Rating: 7/10 Killers

Friday, May 2, 2014

Black Sabbath - Never Say Die! (1978)

"Never Say Die!" is the title of Black Sabbath's 8th album, which is kinda ironic since this album marked the end for the original line-up since Geezer Butler and Ozzy Osbourne left the band the following year. Well, you could see the end coming pretty easily since Ozzy left the band during a short period between this album and "Technical Ecstasy", but also because of the heavy abuse of alcohol and drugs in the band. But the band gathered some final strength together to create one of the most criticized albums in the band's discography.

Despite the negativity that surrounds the album, it starts off quite fine actually. The title track gets the blood pumping with its simple, yet effective, groove and catchy chorus, while the following song, "Johnny Blade" keeps it going with a fast drum beat and some interesting lyrics. "Johnny Blade" is probably one of the few songs in the latest couple of Sabbath albums that has big resemblances from the earlier records. I also kinda like the groovy "Junior's Eyes", even though it is on the edge of being to light of a song.

The rest however, is a complete train wreck. The remaining 6 songs on "Never Say Die!" is a definite sign of the band's problems. Most of the songs have very little flow to them and it just feels like they were patched up together here and there in under a minute. The whole performance feels contrived and rushed, which ends up in a horrible album with no sense of direction.

There are some really weird decisions through out this album. Like why they made "A Hard Road" so sluggish, or why the keyboard takes over too much in "Over To You", or why they included the horrible big band sound in the instrumental "Breakout". There are bad decisions everywhere in this album, but one of the worst decisions must be the closer of the album, "Swinging The Chain". It is not a horrible song because of the fact that Bill Ward takes the lead here, but because of the horrific harmonica. I don't know who played it, but he should get a slap in the face. Without it (and that scream in the middle of the song), "Swinging The Chain" would be pretty decent, but now it just sits there at the end of "Never Say Die!", being as useless as a appendicitis.

The Ozzy era of Black Sabbath could not have a worse ending than this. "Never Say Die!" is a horrible album that probably every Sabbath fan hate, and I can understand them. Too much keyboard, harmonica and trumpets, and not enough of the band itself. I don't want to count it in as a Black Sabbath album since it doesn't sound like them, but it is, and all I can do about it is to face palm.

Songs worthy of recognition: Johnny Blade, Never Say Die

Rating: 3/10 Shock Waves