Thursday, October 30, 2014

Devin Townsend Project - Z² (2014) Part 2: Dark Matters

Disc 2 of "Z²" is the official follow up to the fantastic 2007 release "Ziltoid The Omniscient". For those of you who do not remember, that album was a concept album about a green, lizard like alien that started to invade Earth when he was served some fetid coffee, but was stopped when it came out that he was a nerd, and a puppet. In the end, it was all a dream from the mind of a sleepy barista (sorry for the spoiler), so it was easy to assume that we would not see Ziltoid any more, at least not in another album. But here we are now, 7 years after the release of the original, seeing Ziltoid being brought back to life with a new album, a TV show, a radio show, a coming comic book and a huge concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London next year. Who would have seen that coming? Well, maybe the omnidimensional creator.

So what is the story in "Dark Matters"? The story begins where Ziltoid is given a mission by the Ziltoidian Collective to investigate planet Earth to see if it could be the future home for the Ziltoidian race. He is also set to gather more data about a stimulant that the humans consume, but does not know of its hidden powers. And that stimulant is, of course, coffee. To do so, he has become a celebrity to the humans through music and being an alien. After all, he is a 4th dimensional guitar hero. Ziltoid has also made a visit to the planet Titan, where he has come across a race known as the Poozers, small creatures that are children to Blataria, the War Princess (played by Stolen Babies singer Dominique Lenore Persi). After hearing that one of her children were stolen by Ziltoid, she decides to gather her Poozer army, and invade Earth herself and take all of the coffee. Not the story I expected, but it is still interesting, and definitely more well thought out than the story line on the first Ziltoid record.

Now, there are two versions of "Dark Matters" that is available. One CD with dialogues, and one without. Frankly, I prefer the so called raw version because the dialogues are taking up too much space, acting like it is the main show instead of the music. One reason to why the original Ziltoid was so successful is that there was minimal dialogue, and the little dialogue that existed was in between the tracks. In other words, it was the music that was the focal point, which is not the case in "Dark Matters". Even if they take up lots of unnecessary space, the dialogues are telling the story pretty well. I especially like the narrator Bill Courage who gives the album a classic "War of The Worlds" touch. Other voice actors in this album are former wrestler and current Fozzy vocalist Chris Jericho as Captain Spectacular, Mark Cimino as a Poozer, and Chris Devitt as the Planet Smasher, also known as Herman.

"Dark Matters" has a lot of influences from previous Devin Townsend efforts, which does not surprise me one bit. What really surprise me though is that there is not many similarities between this album and the original Ziltoid. The original had that special sound that really fits the alien space theme, while this album feels like "Epicloud" in an astronaut suit. And most of the heavy stuff has more resemblance to "Deconstruction" than "Ziltoid The Omniscient" (there is also some SYL moments in this album). So for those of you who expected a new "Solar Winds", "Color Your World", or "Hyperdrive", you might get dissapointed. The only track that makes you think back to the original Ziltoid record is "Deathray", a song that represents the invasion of Earth. Musically speaking, it may no have much in common with the track "Ziltoidia Attaxx!!!", but the lyrics in the songs are about the same thing, except that it is the Poozers that attack in "Deathray". It is groovy as hell and is one of few songs that has a normal song structure, and it certainly has grown since I first heard it. Definitely one of the better songs in this album, despite its weird lyrics.

There are several other highlights in this album that one must check out. The heavy "Ziltoid Goes Home" blends the classic "City" groove from the SYL age with epic choirs. I did not know that Devin still had it in him to write that kind of music, and I love it. "Ziltoidian Empire" impresses with an irresistible groove that is both weird and humorous, especially when you follow the story line. I can see before me the small Poozer flying through space with the "hede-hede-ya-ah hede-yah" in the background. We also get an amazing performance from Persi in the track "War Princess". I definitely see why Devin chose her to play this role since her vocals fits so well with the War Princess's personality. I also love the apocalyptic "March of The Poozers", the later half of "Earth" and the epic "Dimension Z", the only one out of the three tracks in "Z²" that uses the Universal Choir in the right way.

I can honestly say that "Dark Matters" is the follow up album that Ziltoid deserves. The funny story line has a couple of things that fans of the first Ziltoid record will recognize, but enough new stuff to make it feel new and fresh. The music could have been better structured, but something tells me that this album was not as close to the heart of Devin as "Sky Blue" was. It feels kind of forced, like Devin was pressured to come up with this to please his fans. You do not need to do that Devin, we will still love you as much as the Poozers love the War Princess. Just do what feels good to you, and let the music do the talking.

The final question though is if this is the end of Ziltoid The Omniscient? I am sure that this is the last new musical material we will see him in, but evil aliens always has a way to come back in one way or another. We just have to wait and see, and enjoy the little things around us, like coffee, the sun, and of course, this album.

Songs worthy of recognition: Ziltoid Goes Home, Ziltoidian Empire, March of The Poozers, Dimension Z


All in all, "Z²" does not quite live up to my inhumanly high expectations, but that does not mean that Devin bit off more than he could chew. Both albums are great creations and I like the fact that they are so different from each other, like two polar opposites. I simply cannot pick a favourite out of the two because they excel in different ways. "Sky Blue" feels more down to Earth and closer to what Devin wants to do, while "Dark Matters" impress with the funny and interesting concept. Together they create a fantastic double album that is just another proof of Devin's vast musical mind. The man never seems to run out of ideas. The project is not at its final destination yet, but the highlight is now behind us, and all we can do is just enjoy the ride and remember the wonderful music. Next stop, the Royal Albert Hall in London and the Ziltoid musical. Prepare your finest coffee.

Rating: 8,5/10 Earths

Part 1

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Devin Townsend Project - Z² (2014) Part 1: Sky Blue

It feels pretty unreal that it has finally happened. After months of waiting and tons of other media that has led up to this moment, Devin Townsend is finally ready to reveal his biggest album project yet. The double album entitled "Z²" has been super hyped ever since it was announced, and I think it is thanks to the fact that the fans really love the green, coffee drinking alien Ziltoid The Omniscient. I can guarantee that the Casualties of Cool crowd funding campaign became so successful because that the left overs was going to be spent in this double album. I do think the funders were interested in how this Casualties of Cool project would turn out, but just the pure thought of a follow up to the critically acclaimed "Ziltoid The Omniscient" just made my, and probably several other's, mouth so moist. However, I do not think many fans expected this album to be a double sandwich, a album that represents a combat between the DTP and Ziltoid.

Since this album is so huge, I want to do the review like this. This first part will focus on the first album, entitled "Sky Blue", which is the DTP part of "Z²", and then I will release a second part tomorrow focusing on the official follow up album to "Ziltoid The Omniscient", entitled "Dark Matters". I will also summarize "Z²" in the second part and give it a proper rating, instead of rating the two albums separately and give "Z²" the middle value of those two ratings. So let's get to it shall we?

Sky Blue

So first out is the DTP part of the double album, and for those who are well aware of what Devin has previously done in this project will recognize the sound instantly. The sound in "Sky Blue" has several similarities with mostly "Epicloud", but also earlier Devin albums like "Terria" and "Synchestra" have their fair share in "Sky Blue". In other words, it is joyful, almost pop like metal Devin is giving us with a lot of choir. We also get to hear Devin's favourite female partner once again, former The Gathering singer Anneke Van Giersbergen, which just feels right since her soft vocals fits so well with this type of music.

Knowing what to come, it feels good that Devin opens up "Z²" with a album that has its feet on Earth. "Sky Blue" has an overall spiritual feeling that has a high memorability factor and contains a virus that gives you the urge to sing along. And it also feels like this is the type of music Devin wants to write, not because it has become a successful sound, but for the reason that he is in the point of his life where he does not want to go bat shit crazy anymore, he just wants to make himself and people around him happy, which is really reflective in the music.

Let us get into one of the highlights in "Sky Blue", the song "Before We Die". It is not the highlight because it is a beautiful song with an amazing epic chorus, it is a highlight since it is one out of three songs in "Z²" that utilizes the Universal Choir project where fans could send in their sound file of them singing a specific part of a song, and then Devin would bake it in to make a humongous and epic choir to spice up "Z²". I really think it is a fantastic idea by Devin, but unfortunately, It is only fully utilized in the "Dark Matters" track "Dimension Z", which is disappointing. Not saying that the choir goes by unnoticed in both "Before We Die" and "Z²", but it does not stand out as much as in "Dimension Z".

The album's strong point is in the middle where four fantastic songs are gathered together like a big joyful lump. "Universal Flame", "Warrior", "Sky Blue" and "Silent Militia" are all great pieces that are among the best tracks in the album, together with "Fallout" and "Before We Die", and they impress with different strength. The title track is a grand piece without sounding big, which really makes the duet between Devin and Anneke sound so much better. "Silent Militia" is probably the angriest song in the album, but it gets you pumped up and is a perfect song to just scream out the words. "Universal Flame" is incredibly catchy, almost at the edge of being repetitive, but the cool persona of Devin stops it from being annoying. Finally, "Warrior" is the song where Anneke gets the most room for her talent, and she uses that room perfectly in this epic track.

Most of the tracks that I have not mentioned are more or less the same thing. Slow songs that are very close to the ambient style that Devin has nudged so many times before, and they are a good edition to the album so the down to Earth feeling really sinks in, but none of the songs are really memorable at all, so it is easy to look past them. I have never been a fan of ambient music and this addition to "Sky Blue" does lower its quality, especially since some of it is totally unnecessary. For example, the last three minutes of "Before We Die" is more or less silence, which is pretty annoying, and the final track in the album, "The Ones Who Love", are just a dumb way to end the album. A total of 5 minutes of material that could have been utilized in a more efficient way.

The first half of "Z²" is a wonderful and spiritual experience, and it will certainly make lots of Devin's fans happy (especially those who recently discovered the Canadian). This "Terria" / "Epicloud" hybrid is interesting and a good gateway to how Devin is as a person now a days. "Sky Blue" is definitely necessary in this double album, because you could lose your sanity if you just got into "Dark Matters" without any spiritual warm up. The easy part is now over, let us all jump into hyperdrive and once again make a visit to Ziltoid The Omniscient.

Songs worthy of recognition: Fallout, Sky Blue, Silent Militia, Before We Die

Part 2

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Black Sabbath - Dehumanizer (1992)

More than a decade after the release of "Mob Rules", the line-up from that album was reunited. Ronnie James Dio, Geezer Butler and Vinnie Appice all returned to the band and created the band's 16th album "Dehumanizer" together with Tony Iommi. So you would expect the band to go back to the sound they had during the previous Dio era, where the more straight forward rock approach dominated the fantastic albums "Heaven And Hell" and "Mob Rules", but even if there is some truth to that, "Dehumanizer" is darker and heavier than its brothers, which is not surprising since the band have had that direction during the whole Tony Martin Harford era.

Most of the lyrics in this album is about technology and how humans worship it, but the album also discusses the afterlife and individualism, so it is some heavy subjects this album is taking up, especially compared to the two previous Sabbath records in which Dio was in. Dio is an excellent lyricist and he does a good job on this album, but it is no doubt that it his voice that steals the show. I definitely think that if Tony Martin Harford still was in the band, he would also do a good job on "Dehumanizer", but Dio is Dio, and no one can really match up with his grand vocals.

The album reach its absolute high point in the middle with the two fantastic songs known as "Letter From Earth" and "Master of Insanity". "Letters From Earth" contains a simple, but effective riff that carries the song on its shoulders, and the tempo is just right for Dio to really visualize the story. "Master of Insanity" is just incredibly catchy, thanks to its groovy riff and simple chorus. These two songs are very simple, and they show that less is sometimes more in good music.

And that is just what most of the album is all about. Simple, straight forward songs that are not overly complicated, which makes "Dehumanizer" easy to listen to. I definitely like that the band takes the straight forward direction for this album, but I would like this album a bit more if it had some more complexity in it, give it something that will keep the listener on his toes. Because even if I like the nudity that songs like "After All (The Dead)" and "I" shows, they really does not last very long. That is why "Sins of The Father" is another song that stands out in "Dehumanizer", because the tempo in the song does change the further the song goes, which makes the listener interested. And it also helps that it has one of the best grooves in the album.

I would say that "Dehumanizer" is the worst album of the ones that Dio has been on, but that would not be fair towards the record. "Dehumanizer" is another excellent record that just shows how Black Sabbath has evolved and matured with their age. The straight forward attitude is admiring and the heavy sound fits like a glove to the band. It does contain some fillers and an overall staleness that is not so good, but thanks to the strength of Dio's vocals and good song writing, "Dehumanizer" is just another one of those underrated albums made by Sabbath that was released in the 90's. A good album made in a time where technology started to take over.

Songs worthy of recognition: Letters From Earth, Master of Insanity, Sins of The Father, I

Rating: 8/10 Time Machines

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Slipknot - .5: The Gray Chapter (2014)

It is almost ridiculous when you look back at the last 6 years of Slipknot's career and see everything that has happened to the band. Since the release of the 2008 album "All Hope Is Gone", Slipknot has lost their bassist Paul Gray who died of an overdose of morphine and fentanyl, they have gone through an infected break up with their drummer Joey Jordison, and there has been some struggles within between Corey Taylor and Jim Root when the later left Stone Sour. And to top it all off, the new drummer and bassist's identities have not been revealed and are not considered as full time members yet. The only good thing that Slipknot can take out of all this is that this kind of turbulence would have obliterated any other band in the business, but Slipknot are twisted enough to make it through all this and release another album.

I did not have much expectations for ".5: The Gray Chapter" before listening to it, but I was hoping that the band would take out their chaotic side as much as possible since it is that side I mostly associate them with. And sure enough, we get a good deal of chaos in this album, but we don't get the crazy attack we got in the band's early career, instead it is controlled chaos that is close to being wimpy, but chaotic enough to please the most of the fans on both side of the border (the fans that enjoy their more melodic style and those who like it heavy). There are only few parts of the album where the band really let it all go buck wild, like "Custer" and the opening to "AOV", which actually surprised me. Even though most things has pointed towards that the band has calmed down and tried to make more controlled music, I thought the band would really get together and really make a album that reminded them of their origin, as a tribute to Paul Gray.

One thing is for certain though, The band has definitely cut all of the ropes that tied them together with Stone Sour (except that Corey Taylor is still a member of both bands). You will find no "Snuff" in this album, which is a huge relief. However, ".5: The Gray Chapter" does still have their clean moments that mostly drags the album down. The awful "Killpop" is the only song in this albums that I could see in a Stone Sour record with its boring lyrics about jealousy and semi slow tempo (only thing keeping it from a Stone Sour record is the harsh vocals and the excesive amount of swear words), while "Goodbye" does nothing to catch my interest. Then we have those cleaner moments that just works out just because they are either catchy or because they still maintain the heavy attitude, like the infectious "Nomadic" or the groovy and catchy single "The Devil In I".

The main problem with ".5: The Gray Chapter" (besides from that hideous album cover) is a problem that Slipknot never really seemed to care about, which is that they put quantity over quality. The record has 16 songs and a playtime close to 1 hour and 15 minutes (bonus songs included), but I find only about half of the material in here enjoyable. They have had 6 long years since their last album and this is what they come up with? The tops of the album are definitely high and they match up well compared to the rest of the discography, but the bottoms are just dumb. I really wished that the band would some time in the future release an even album instead of a bumpy roller coaster. But then again, how easy is that when your band has a total of 10 members.

Speaking of members, how are the two newcomers holding up? Not surprisngly, they are doing a good job on this album. The drummer, who is rumored to be Jay Weinberg, may not have as unique of a style as Joey Jordison had, but his beats fits well with the songs and he really knows how to do a slamming blast beat, which is best heard in "The Devil In I". As for the bassist, who is Alesandro Venturella (who else could have the same tattoo as the guy in the "The Devil In I" video?), he does not really stand out that much in the album for me to give a proper opinion about him, but he does not make a fool out of him self, which should be considered as a fine compliment. The only thing those two are missing are some original masks, which they should be able to design them self if they become full time members of the Slipknot clan.

I am pretty sure that Paul Gray has observated the making of the album from heaven/hell/purgatory and is honored for this tribute that the band has made, because when it all comes down, ".5: The Gray Chapter" is ultimately a good album from the Iowa band. A good deal of chaos and some new ideas makes this album a worthwile listen, even if it is a tad bit too long. But the same problems that has haunted Slipknot before is showing again in this album. Too many fillers and no straight direction are aspects that keeps this record from becoming a grand piece in the Slipknot discography, but thanks to their unique, twisted style, Slipknot remains one of the bigger acts in the nu metal movement, which actually doesn't say much since most of those acts has been dismantled or lost the fan's attention.

Songs worthy of recognition: The Devil In I, AOV, Nomadic

Rating: 6,5/10 Skeptics

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Amaranthe - Massive Addictive (2014)

The album title could not be any more descriptive over Amaranthe's sound. Their unique blend of pop, metal and techno is almost more addictive than nicotine, which is one of the reasons to why the band has become so successful. But this particular addiction is starting to lose its touch after only 3 albums.

Because "Massive Addiction" is exactly what you would expect from this band. Catchy choruses that sticks like glue and a healthy dose of female-, male- and harsh vocals. And there is no denying that the music in the album sounds good. The band know what they are doing and they are doing it like clockwork, which kind of worries me since the song writing process seems to work like that as well. There is nothing in "Massive Addictive" that tries to separate it from its two brothers, "Amaranthe" and "The Nexus". It is like the band has a pre-made template and then just puts in a slightly alternated riff, some new lyrics, and ta da, they have a "new" song.

But the worst part of it all is that the band still has not learned how to make a well diverse album. "Massive Addictive" holds almost the exact same tempo all the way through, with the exceptions of a couple of ballads of course, and the song's structures are far too similar. The lack of variation is really smothering this album to the extent of making it unbearable.

Therefore, there are only few songs in this album that ultimately sticks to me in a positive way. The industrial "Drop Dead Cynical" has a irresistible groove that fortunately does not annoy the brains out of you, while "Digital World" somehow reminds me of the 90's, but the song has a drive that is impressive. And out of the ballads in the album it is "Over And Done" that feels the most well composed where Elize Ryd and Joacim Lundberg does a great job in creating a connection between themselves. But the most impressive song is "An Ordinary Abnormality" that takes a sweet, heavy groove that just screams Soilwork all over it, and adapt it to a Amaranthe production. Definitely the only track in "Massive Addictive" that doesn't completely feel unoriginal.

Nope, this does not work for me. After three albums of more or less the same thing, I think I need to consult a psychiatrist to get rid of this addiction. "Massive Addictive" is far from a bad album, it has some great musicianship and it is very easy to remember the tunes, but compared to Amaranthe's two previous efforts, this record is not even close to reach the same attraction. The band needs a new direction to follow, a new angle to work from. Because if the band just keeps on going like this in the next couple of albums, then the crowd will eventually abandon Amaranthe. I know I am close of doing that.

Songs worthy of recognition: Drop Dead Cynical, Digital World, An Ordinary Abnormality

Rating: 5,5/10 Trinities

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Allen/Lande - The Great Divide (2014)

Russell Allen and Jorn Lande. Two amazing singers that has contributed to some fantastic music during their individual careers. One spends his time with fronting Symphony X and Adrenaline Mob, while the other is a former Masterplan singer and now focuses most of his energy on his solo band. But at the side of their main projects, these guys have also done 3 albums together under the name Allen/Lande, taken from their surnames of course, a project that has now reached its fourth album entitled "The Great Divide".

The big thing that separates this album from the other three is the main composer. The previous three albums had music written by guitarist Magnus Karlsson (Primal Fear, Starbreaker, Magnus Karlsson's Free Fall), but he left the project in 2010. And his successor is... Timo Tolkki, who we all know is the former guitarist of Stratovarius and the man who recently started his own solo project called Timo Tolkki's Avalon, whom released two very mediocre albums, so I was worried that the music on "The Great Divide" would be substandard.

Fortunately, my fears were dismissed easily, since the music holds a good standard. Just like with the previous Allen/Lande albums, "The Great Divide" is a more classic inspired heavy metal album that fits both vocalists very well. The music does have some similarity with what Tolkki has done in his Avalon, but it does not overtake the album. Besides, I think that both Russell and Jorn are such competent singers that they can take a mediocre song and make it better. Also, I had some trouble separating which of the two front men was singing on what song, since their vocals are surprisingly similar, but that only works as an advantage since it makes the album more unified. Besides, you do hear the difference after the right amount of listens.

But if I should be honest, I do not care who sings which songs, because both Allen and Lande does a great job in this album, especially Allen who has left the stupid in your face attitude he has in Adrenaline Mob, and instead focuses on doing some great singing. His best performance comes in "Reaching For The Stars", a semi-slow song that gives a lot of room to the singer so he can show his full potential. My favourite Lande moment is his performance on the chorus to "Down From The Mountain" where he goes all in and put out all his power into a few lines of lyrics. Just fantastic.

Then there are of course other notable songs in this album, like the grand semi-ballad "Hymn To The Fallen",  the heavy "Dream About Tomorrow", or even "Lady of Winter" that sounds like it is ripped off of one of the Jorn albums (which of course makes it perfectly suitable for Lande). And ultimately it is those songs that sounds less like a creation from any of the previous or current Tolkki projects that really lifts "The Great Divide". A song like the opener "Come Dream With Me" just does not get me going thanks to the fact that it sounds like something out of a Revolution Renaissance record. This is clearly the best Timo Tolkki written album outside of Stratovarius, but it could have been even better if he kept it clean and simple with the classic heavy metal theme.

So once again I can admit that Allen and Lande makes a great team, even without Magnus Karlsson by their side. "The Great Divide" is a fine heavy metal record that is a must buy for fans of both vocalists, and even for those who enjoy the work of Timo Tolkki. His involvement did not bring as much change as I was fearing, but it did rattle the cage a small bit so the album would stand out against the other 3 Allen/Lande creations. No matter what, "The Great Divide" is an excellent album with great musicianship and good team work.

Songs worthy of recognition: Reaching For The Stars, Down From the Mountain, Lady of Winter

Rating: 8/10 Solid Grounds

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Black Sabbath - Tyr (1990)

I have always been a fan of Norse mythology. It is something with Odin, Thor and the rest of the gods and their stories that just feels so metal. That is why bands like Amon Amarth and Týr will always have a place in my metal heart, not only for their fantastic music, but also for their lyrics. But before any of those bands existed, the veterans in Black Sabbath decided to try out this concept in their 15th album "Tyr". Well, not exactly. "Tyr" is not a concept album, but several songs in the album has some of this theme incorporated, which gave the impression of it being one.

Despite not being a concept album, "Tyr" still feels like a well thought out piece where all of the songs share the same connection and sound. The sound is sort of a continuation from the previous effort, "Headless Cross", but it feels even more dynamic this time thanks to a different production that feels more modern than the darker production that "Headless Cross" had. I still feel that Sabbath does best when the production is a little rough, but I cannot say that the production on "Tyr" works as an disadvantage for the band, since it helps making the songs stand out more. However, the drums are a bit too loud, but it is not really enough to make me complain.

Once again, it is the shear power that impress me, something all of the Tony Martin records have in common. He sings with strength and passion, and he does the music justice. Just listen to"The Sabbath Stones", and be amazed over Tony's well thought out vocals, from the mood to the pure force. Definitely one of the more underrated singers in metal.

The other star of the album is, not surprisingly, the other Tony in the band. Iommi's guitar playing is once again spot on, and he does it with such precision that it gives me goose bumps. From the slower and more delicate parts in "Odin's Court" and  to the more fierce and heavier riffs in songs like "Valhalla" and "The Lawmaker", Tony Iommi brings a high diversity to "Tyr" that is unmatched in any other Sabbath album. I would say that this is one of his best performances in any Sabbath album up to date.

The song quality in this album is incredibly strong. Even the weaker tracks, the ballad "Feels Good To Me" and the opener "Anno Mundi", have some strength in them that makes their appearance worthy. That is why it is so strange to me why this album is rarely taken into question when you discuss about the best album from Black Sabbath. If you ask someone on the street about the best Sabbath album, it is a big chance that they will say "Paranoid", "Master of Reality", "Heaven And Hell", or any other album out of the first 10. With a great line-up consisting of the epic "Jerusalem", the more old school song "The Sabbath Stones", the groovy "Valhalla" and the easily likable "Heaven In Black", I consider "Tyr" to be among the top in the discography, but instead, some fans dismiss it fast just because it does not have Ozzy or Dio as the vocalist. It sucks that most people have such preconceptions about some eras in Sabbath, because it should be about the actual music that is performed, and not who is behind the mic.

"Tyr" is not a perfect album, but it is pretty darn close. With that nordic touch and some great performances from all of the band members, "Tyr" makes a great impression and is a big contender to becoming the best Black Sabbath album when I will summarize the discography. Great variation, great production, great everything. It would have been even more interesting to see how it could have been if the band made a full concept album out of this but it is not needed since the music does the talking, and it does it good. Odin and the rest of the gods are looking down from Valhalla, and can confirm that it feels good to finally be a part of the metal community, all thanks to this masterpiece.

Songs worthy of recognition: The Sabbath Stones, The Lawmaker, Jerusalem, Valhalla, Heaven In Black

Rating: 9,5/10 Anno Mundis

Monday, October 6, 2014

Scar Symmetry - The Singularity (Phase 1 - Neohumanity) (2014)

The metal world has seen many ambitious concept albums before. Albums that take on a grand and epic voyage that is almost too big for some to comprehend, or just a story that is told in more than one album. The next band that is trying out such a huge project is the Swedish melodic death metal band Scar Symmetry. "The Singularity (Phase 1 - Neohumanity)" is the first out of three albums about transhumanism, which is the development of technology and how it can improve the life of human beings. This first album revolve over the rise of artificial intellects and about the debate between those who oppose it and those who embrace it. An interesting concept that could possibly be a heads up for what will happen in the future.

As complex and diverse the concept was, I was hoping for the same with the music. There is no doubt that this is Scar Symmetry playing since the album is filled with their patented type of melodies, structure and singing styles, but there is nothing there that feels fresh or innovative. You have heard it before, and even if you do like it, it will leave a sour after taste. A song like "Technocalyptic Cybergeddon" is the perfect example of this, since there is so much in this song that the band has done before in one way or another. Especially the song structure and the riff structures are very much alike several other previous Scar Symmetry offerings. Recycling at its finest.

But I cannot stop myself from head banging with the rhythm, even though I know it is the same old situation, and that is because the music still has a strong attraction towards it. The groovy "Neohuman" and the apocalyptic "The Spiral Timeshift" are some of the front runners in this album, and there are certainly several other good songs in this record. However, I cannot leave the fact that this album is missing a strong, catchy chorus. A chorus that takes a hold of your brain and does not let go for quite some time. The chorus to "Limits To Infinity" could have had that ability, but the end result is just flat and drags down an otherwise good song.

The strong suit of Scar symmetry has always been Per Nilsson's guitar playing, and he definitely delivers in this album. He mixes simple and complex riffs that fits perfectly with what is played on the keyboard, and the solos he does are well fitted into the songs. He just does a hell of a good job on every album, and so does the rest of the band. The mix between clean and harsh vocals are well balanced and the drums holds a good rhythm together with the bass. So despite that Jonas Kjellgren left the band in 2013, the band still have a good chemistry that creates a comforting harmony that is really reflective in the end product.

Still no word on when the upcoming two parts of the trilogy is coming out, which is a little sad since this album got me hooked. "The Singularity (Phase 1 - Neohumanity)" is a good offering from Scar Symmetry that displays both strength and melody together with a en capturing concept. But the band still has some way to go to make me love this concept series, because the music is not very original and the lack of a very strong chorus is hurting the album. I set my hopes high before Phase 2 and I am sure that the Swedes will conceive another great metal album, and hopefully not just take out a album clone from its cryogenic sleep. The future sure looks good.

Songs worthy of recognition: The Spiral Timeshift, Neohuman, Cryonic Harvest

Rating: 7,5/10 Neuromancers

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Black Sabbath - Headless Cross (1989)

Continuing on the successful sound that came from "The Eternal Idol", "Headless Cross" was released in 1989 and was to that point Black Sabbath's darkest album after the Ozzy era. I am not saying that they completely went back to the doom groove that excelled Black Sabbath's early career, but some of the elements was added to the band's current repertoire from that era, like the dark lyrics and a slightly dirtier production. So this was ultimately as close as Black Sabbath would come to its older self.

If we compare this album to Black Sabbath's previous releases, I would say that "Headless Cross" is a lot like its predecessor "The Eternal Idol", but it also have distinct similarities with "Heaven And Hell", mostly in the shear power of the performance. And it is the singer Tony Martin Harford that really steps up to the plate. He was good in "The Eternal Idol", but he really excels in this album. His voice is showing a force that is very similar to the one that former Sabbath vocalist Ronnie James Dio has, which is of course another reason why this album and "Heaven And Hell" sounds so similar.

But when it comes to quality in the song material, "Headless Cross" does not reach the same astronomic heights as "Heaven And Hell" did. There are indeed several songs in this album that really impress me, like the groovy "Devil & Daughter" and the hard hitting "Black Moon", but the album is not completely rock solid. Songs like "Call of The Wild" and "Cloak & Dagger" keeps this record from being one of the band's top albums. I also feel like most of the songs in "Headless Cross" does not have a very high memorability factor, which makes it harder to acknowledge the album among the rest of the Black Sabbath discography.

I am still fond of the album though. I especially like that Tony Iommi puts more emphasis on the riffs and solos. Definitely some of Iommi's best work in quite some time. But there are more details in this album that brings a smile to my face, like the keyboards in the title track or the build up in "When Death Calls". These small things, and many other intricate details, are what makes this record a winner.

I must say that "Headless Cross" is a great album and so far the best album among those that are not in the Ozzy or Dio era. With a great mix of darkness, melody and modern musicality, this album is very interesting in many aspects. It does miss another great song or two and it does have a tendency to be quite anonymous, but it still holds a good amount of quality that one should not ignore. So after some years of turbulence, it is good to hear that Sabbath has found the right path again. The question now however is if they will keep making the right decisions, or spin out of the road again.

Songs worthy of recognition: Devil & Daughter, When Death Calls, Black Moon

Rating: 8,5/10 Nightwings