Sunday, May 31, 2015

Leprous - The Congregation (2015)

I discovered the Norwegian progressive metal band Leprous in 2013, when they released "Coal", a album that took me by storm and was a obvious choice for when it was time to put together my "best of the year" list of 2013. Now, here we are, 2 years later, and the band has unveiled the follow up "The Congregation", the band's 4th full length effort. As you may have suspected, my expectations for this release were pretty high given the band's history.

After the first listening session, I am left standing with only one thought in my head. That was it? "The Congregation" just felt slim at the time, still having some of the components that made "Coal" so successful, but scaling it off into a diet version. The songs were good, but there was something missing for me. Was it the heaviness? The catchy choruses? A overall grand feeling? I did not know. The band was performing well, and the structures sparked an interest in me, but I felt that the album was underwhelming.

After going through the album another bunch of times, I can definitely say that Leprous gives out a solid work. The sound that this album has is quite interesting, growing for every spin. There is not much to hide behind for the band members since the music is so naked, which ultimately demands a perfect performance. It is especially the singer Tor Oddmund Suhrke that shines, shaping his voice multiple times so that it fits perfectly with the melodies. He brings the music something special, something for fans to look forward too in every new release.

But somehow, my initial reaction still nags me in the back of my head. The peeled off music is according to me a step backwards for the band in the terms of quality, even if it shows that the band still has the ability to take their music to different territories in every record. I loved the epic and heavy music that "Coal" offered, and with this album missing almost all of the heavy personality, I cannot get myself together to love it. I still highly enjoy several epic tracks, like "Rewind", "The Flood",  "Within My Fence" and "Moon", but since all of the songs have such a similar feel to them, it is a pain in the ass to go through the entire album without any pause.

I wanted to love this record, I really wanted to, but "The Congregation" is, and always will be, a blob of disappointment. It is still a decent album, and fans of the band will probably be happy over it, but I cannot get into this kind of progressive music. It is just too bland for me. There is not enough action in this to get me excited. The craftsmanship is top notch, but what does that help when the music itself is as grey as the album cover. I will still give Leprous a thumbs up for evolving and trying to bring something new to the table in every release, just such a shame that they did not hit the head on the nail this time.

Songs worthy of recognition: The Flood, Rewind, Moon

Rating: 6/10 Slaves

Thursday, May 28, 2015

(mini) Movie review: Kung Fury

The website Kickstarter is pretty funny, you can just upload any stupid idea out there and make people pay you for it to come true. Wheter it is a hip new Indie game or some worthless invention. Few of these kickstarter projects have ever ended up in a final product that met the expectations of what it promised, but there are also those projects that are the exception that proves the rule.

Kung Fury started out as a small movie project by a couple of guys from Umeå, Sweden, who wanted to create a classic 80's themed cop comedy, with tons of action, goofiness, and computer animation. The group uploaded a trailer, and set the goal for about 200 thousand dollars, which was met in less than 24 hours. A total of 180 thousand people have donated, and last week, in Cane's grand movie festival, the fruit of all the money was presented in this 30 minute long mini movie. Today, the rest of us got to see this through a couple of mediums (I myself watched it in the Swedish television channel SVT2).

The 80's called, they want their spoilers back

The movie is set in Miami, Florida, in the 80's. For those of you who do not remember that time (or like me, was not born in it), it was a time where the arcade systems, the neon lights, and the over the top, butt ugly hair cuts and clothing styles ruled. When it comes to metal, this was the age for glam metal bands, such as Mötley Crüe, Poison, Skid Row and more. A genre I have always despised fairly much, mostly because the dudes in those bands mostly were in it for the chicks and fame, and not for the music, which is ultimately why the genre itself did not last very long. Wait, did I just turn this movie review into a rant about glam metal? Shit, let me get back on track.

Anyway, we meet the hero of the movie, Kung Fury (played by David Sandberg, the leader of the project), when he gets called in to stop a giant arcade robot who has gone completely mad, shooting people and flipping them off. A epic fighting scene that of course ends with a corny, but still funny punch line (not gonna spoil it, but I think you can easily guess what he said). We also get the back story of how this seemingly normal cop became the chosen one, the only man to ever master the art of kung fury. However, he is still working in the force, and gets the classic lecture that he has to follow the rules and not smash the city into smithereens when saving it.

The story really gets serious when a nazi-German suddenly calls the chief of police, then starts shooting the entire police office through the phone. It makes no sense, but it is kind of the whole point with this movie. Kung Fury knows exactly who did this, it is the infamous leader Adolf Hitler who did it, and is in search of Kung Fury to kill him, so Adolf himself can become Kung Fury. This leads Kung Fury to a epic adventure where he travels back in time through hacking, in where he meets up with Thor (not the Marvel Thor, the actual, muscular, viking Thor), Barbarianna and Katana, and later goes to Nazi Germany to once and for all take down the Kung Führer.

The story itself is wacky, but there are tons of other stuff in this movie that are out right insane. The acting is not anywhere near top class, but the cheesiness that the actors incorporate (especially David) fits the mood perfectly. They act like they are ultra serious, but still have that non-serious side that is so typical action comedies like The Naked Gun and Loaded Weapon. The computer animations are actually pretty cool, especially since the guys really made it look like it really was made in the 80's. But the best part of the movie is of course the various action scenes that are just so ridiculous that they leave you speechless. They are all incredibly insane, especially the one where Kung Fury fights off endless nazi soldiers.

Because of the attention the project has gotten, several celebrities have joined in the project to make it what it is today. The most famous one is without a doubt David "The Hoff" Hasselhoff, he sings the main theme to the movie and makes a small cameo in the ending. Other notable famous faces are Saturday Night Live star Jorms Taccone, and the Swedish comedians Magnus Betnér and Björn Gustafsson. They all did a good job in their parts, and fortunately, they did not take over completely, making the movie more about them than the story.

I can honestly say that I highly enjoyed this movie, only because there is no other movie like this in this day and age. The guys did a great job in empersonating the 80's in so many ways, even if the movie mocks it to some extent. The attention the whole project has gotten has been well deserved and I believe that all of the donors must be proud of what they all have done, helping a bunch of guys fulfilling their ultimate tribute to a movie genre that was almost forgotten. Long live the Kung Fury.

Rating: 8,5/10 Killer Arcade Robots who flips fingers at everyone in their way

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Thoughts from a metal mind: Eurovision 2015

Okay, so I know that I should probably not speak about the Eurovision Song Contest since I run a metal blog and so, but it should be noted that I am a general music fan. Sure, Metal is my main subject and I dedicate almost all of my time into it, but that does not mean that I completely ignore all the other things that happens in music. And when it comes to ESC, I have followed the competition deeply for about 7 years, so I think I should speak my mind over what happened during the competition.

Anyway, not surprisingly, Sweden won with Måns Zelmerlöv and his song "Heroes". He and his little stick figure friend (named MP, representing Måns' younger self) got out on the stage with a bunch of accusations against them. Some said that the song was a copy of David Guetta's "Lovers In The Sun", others have bashed him over one anti-gay comment he did in some Swedish television show, and then we have the overall fact that some were bored of Sweden being the favourite once again. But in the end, the people of Europe made their voices heard, and Måns stood as the winner.

But let us back the tapes to the start of March this year, when the final of the Swedish tryouts (Melodifestivalen) had its final. I personally attended the event together with my Mother and my Little Sister, and was pretty impressed overall. The line-up of finalists was pretty decent, but Måns was already there favorized heavily. A lot of people had about the same opinion, the song was right in its time, the lyrics was inspiring, and the show itself was new and unique. Måns defeated several of Loreens previous records, like most points and most votes from the people, but it was one thing that made Swedes hopeful that history would repeat itself. In 2011, Eric Saade came in 3rd place in ESC, the year after, Loreen won with "Euphoria". Last year, Sweden came once again third, this time with Sanna Nielsen, and look here and now. History has repeated itself once again.

Måns definitely deserves the win, the song has very few similarities to "Lovers In The Sun", but not enough to make it a copy. In the end, it was the performance that I think gave the victory. None of the entries could match up to it, and Måns did all of the bits perfectly (except the fist bump). So congratulations Måns, you made Sweden proud.

Other notable stuff

Sweden won with 362 points, Russia came in 2nd with 303 points, and Italy got 3rd place with 292 points, so the expected favourites all came in the top 3.

Russia actually led the competition after half of the countries had laid out their votes.

Germany and Austria finished last without any points at all. I personally thought that the British entry deserved last place (they finished 24th with 5 points).

The special guest Australia ended 5th in the competition with 196 points. Good for them, thank you for coming.

Who came 4th? Belgium did with 217 points. Did not think they would end up this high, but I did like the song, and I think they deserved the place they got.

Azerbaijan came outside of the top 10 for the second year in a row. I hope that they from now on skips the Swedish song writers and competes with a song that is written by native writers.

The amount of ballads this year was way too many. But since Europe goes with the flow, I expect next year to be a uptempo year since Sweden won.

This year's overall set list was one of the most boring overall, probably the worst since 2011.

My personal favourite this year was Finland's entry, Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät and their song "Aina Mun Pittä". Those guys were simply awesome.

Worst song this year was Hungary, Boggie with "Wars For Nothing", simply because it was such a boring ballad and the artist was named Boggie. OH THE IRONY!

The stage was spectacular, especially the LED-screen was impressive. Made some cool effects.

Besides from Conchita, the overall production was just mediocre. The hosts were bland, but good looking.

I might try to get a ticket to next year's competition since it goes in my home country, but we will see how my situation is in the future.

If you have questions, wheter it be about a specific entry or any other general ESC questions for me, comment here or send me a tweet @FATGreviews.

Stay Metal
Robert "Sharkruisher" Andersson

Friday, May 22, 2015

Amon Amarth - The Avenger (1999)

The road to perfecting Amon Amarth's sound continued on, only one year after the full length debut "Once Sent From The Golden Hall" was released, the Swedish vikings unleashed their sophomore effort, known as "The Avenger". Even if it has not been spoken much about it in recent years, it is still a milestone in the history of the band, because this record was the first one with the line-up that lasted all of 17 years (1998-2015). Drummer Martin Lopez and rhythm guitarist Anders Hansson was replaced by Fredrik Andersson and Johan Söderberg, completing a line-up that would last longer than most band would ever dream of being active.

And with the line-up ready and set, Amon Amarth would really begin their journey to create their own unique sound. "The Avenger" is much more like the Amon Amarth we know today than its predecessor. It has more melodies, it is catchier, and the Norse mythology theme is amped up here. The album still has a strain of the dirty, black metal esque sound that was prominent in "Once Sent From The Golden Hall", but it hides in the background and lurks. Really, the only thing that ties the two albums together is the dark production made by Peter Tägtgren (should be noted though that "The Avenger" does sound a lot clearer than its predecessor).

Despite being a more melodic record, "The Avenger" does not quite have the same number of memorable songs as OSFTGH. The album definitely has some show stoppers in it, but they do not deliver as much force as I would have wanted. It is the riffing that really lifts the material in this album. Mikkonen and his new partner Söderberg delivers both heavy assaults and melodic complexity, but it is when they create these long, swooping rows of notes that gives me the chills. A classic Amon Amarth tactic that the band still uses to this date.

The album is fairly short in length, only filling around 36 minutes of material, so it is very east for one to feel that the band could have put in more. However, since this album came only 1 year after the predecessor, I feel like the band does not have any real valid reason to fill in more than what they did. Sure, another song or two would have been better, but the risk of those songs being pure fillers would have been very high, which would have hurt the album more than it would help. The material in this record is still fairly decent, but it does not blow you away from your chair. If you against all odds would still fall off your chair, it would probably be because of Hegg's mighty vocals, mixing between black metal screams and pure growling.

"The Avenger" is a fine album and a worthy follow up to "Once Sent From The Golden Hall", but there is not much for me to really grasp for here. None of the songs are strong enough for me to really remember them, making them pretty weak in their lone state. However, put those songs together, and you get a good, enjoyable melodic death metal album. The components are there, so all that is left is for the band to come back swinging with a mind blowing record.

Songs worthy of recognition: "God, His Son And Holy Whore", Bleed For Ancient Gods, The Last With Pagan Blood

Rating: 7/10 Metalwraths

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Cain's Offering - Stormcrow (2015)

When Jani Liimatainen parted ways with Sonata Arctica in 2007, a band he was one of the founders of, the metal world eagerly waited for what would come for both Jani and his former band. While Sonata Arctica have more or less changed direction in their sound, Jani decided to carry on his legacy in a new project called Cain's Offering, a band that also includes Stratovarius singer Timo Kotipelto and keyboardist Jens Johansson, Paul Di'Anno drummer Jani Hurula, and former MyGrain bassist Jonas Kuhlberg. A nice mix of Finnish power metal veterans creating powerful music.

"Stormcrow" is the band's sophomore album and it contains what you would expect from a album that Jani have been creating. It is classic European power metal at its absolute best, powerful, grand, and melodic. Even if Jani originated from Sonata Arctica, I do feel like the music in "Stormcrow" sounds more like Stratovarius, which really is not that much worse. I think it is that way because two current Stratovarius members are in the band. Not sure if Timo and Jens was a part of the song writing process, but the Stratovarius vibes are pretty hard to miss. And for those of you who expected Sonata Arctica influences, do not worry, those are present as well.

The entire first half of the album is filled with high quality songs, all of them showing excellent abilities of their own. From the epic and grand "A Night To Forget", and the galloping title track that opens up the album, to the melodic and close too cheesy "I Will Build You A Rome", and the classic Sonata Arctica assault in "Constellation of Tears", "Stormcrow" is displaying an impressive variety, showing off all of the weapons that this genre has. The album never gets stale, and you are kept on the edge all of the time.

But if I am lifting the first half so up into the skies, surely the second half must be flawed, right? Absolutely not! Even if it does not have the same quantity of high calibre songs to offer, it still packs a lot of punch. The beautiful, but yet fast, "Rising Sun", the well constructed "Antemortem" and the instrumental "I Am Legion" are really enjoyable, but if I had to chose one song from the second half that would be the best, it would definitely be "My Heart Beats For No One". Even if this song does have a slightly awkward chorus, the music makes up for it and then some, especially in the build up before the chorus where Kotipelto really shines with his voice. And the keyboards by Jens are just mesmerizing.

This really proofs that the so called "super" group stamp does not always have to be bad. Sure, about 90% of the super groups that come and go are more or less trash, but when the influences fits together like pieces of a puzzle and the ideas are strong and clear, you can be sure that the experienced musicians can create some high quality music. Cain's Offering is exactly the exception to the rule that we as listeners need, but I really hope that it does not have to take another 6 years for the guys to create another album. If they keep producing this kind of quality, then I do not want to wait for it, I want it as soon as possible.

Random reader: "So Robert, how does this album stack up against what Sonata Arctica has done after Jani's departure?"

My answer is that "Stormcrow" literally kicks the ass out of all of the 4 SA albums that has been released without Jani, because this is what power metal should sound like. The melodies are addictive, the performance is flawless, and the production is as clear as day. Personally, I thought the debut "Gather The Faithful" was decent, but nothing special. This album however is just amazing in so many ways. A fantastic power metal album that is bound to be in my "end of the year" list.

Songs worthy of recognition: The Best of Times, Stormcrow, Antemortem, My Heart Beats For No One

Rating: 9/10 Rising Suns

Friday, May 8, 2015

Korpiklaani - Noita (2015)

The folk metal genre contains a hand ful of really interesting and great bands, and then, there is Korpiklaani. The band can certainly create some great folk metal, but does it with a sparkle in the eye, playing with groovy rhythms, the insane Finnish language, and using their fondness of alcohol to their advantage. There really is not much to dislike with Korpiklaani, so whenever the band releases another record, I start to smile and start preparing for what to come.

"Noita" is more or less just like any other Korpiklaani release. It is fun, groovy, and pretty addictive. It is hard to just sit still while listening to songs like "Viinamäen Mies" or "Luontoni", the urge of wanting to dance just takes over your body. The only thing that takes away some of the groove factor is the Finnish language. Finland does have an interesting (and complicated) language, but for a dude who is born and raised anywhere else than in the land of the thousand lakes, it is hard to sing along to any Korpiklaani tune. It is always fun to try of course, but it is more fun to sing along to a song that actually uses a language you are familiar with.

With that said, I do still love the fact that the band stays true to their native language, which gives the folk aspect of their music an extra dimension. I can see the endless woods of the north before me when listening to Korpiklaani, which makes it so much easier to enjoy the music even more. I also like that the band can still sing about alcohol since some of my favourite Korpiklaani tunes are about alcohol (like "Vodka" and "Tequila". The song "Sahti" is about the beer sort with the same name, a beer that uses juniper berry instead of or as a complement to hops. Never tried it personally, but it sounds pretty good, and the song is nice as well.

But I am starting to think that the band had a couple of Sahtis too many when swapping ideas for the album. I would really like to know who came up with the not so bright idea of turning the classic Tommy James & The Shandells song "Mony Mony" into a folk metal song in Finnish. "Jouni Jouni" does have some humour to it, but it is just too similar to the original (and to the excellent Billy Idol version) for me to enjoy it. A weird experience that ultimately left me speachless. I would also liked it if the band had amped up the diversity of the album, even if the single "Lempo" does it to some extent, it is not enough for me, especially since the band has not shown many proofs of evolving their sound. But it is as the saying goes, why fix something that is not broken?

I may only be able to say kiitos (thank you) and yksi, kaksi, kolme (one, two, three) when it comes to my knowledge of the Finnish language, but I understand Korpiklaani as bright as daylight. The Finns brings to the table another solid folk metal release that should go well in the cabins. Even if "Noita" is far from perfect, it is still a very fun listen and well worthy of your time. So take out your booze, turn up the volume, start drinking, and enjoy some good, groovy folk metal.

Songs worthy of recognition: Pilli On Pajusta Tehty, Viinamäen Mies, Sahti

Rating: 7/10 Luontonis

Monday, May 4, 2015

Amon Amarth - Once Sent From The Golden Hall (1998)

In 1988, a bunch of Swedes with Finnish origin created the band Scum, a sort of grindcore band that based their music on dark atmospheres, jagged riffs and a whole lot of mead. This band did not get any notable recognition at all until around 1992 when the band changed vocalists. Out went Paul Mäkitalo (whom later joined Dark Funeral as Themgoroth for a short period of time) and in came Johan Hegg, and it was his presence and his mighty voice that changed the band into a direction that would make them stars. The band focused their song writing on the Norse mythology and changed the name Scum to Amon Amarth, named after the Sindarin name for Mount Doom in the J.R.R. Tolkien classic "Lord of The Rings" trilogy (a.k.a the volcano in which Frodo throws the ring into).

After a couple of low quality demos and another pair of member switches (ultimately making Olavi Mikkonen the only remaining founding member), the band finally released their first full length album in 1998, 10 years after the creation of the band. "Once Sent From The Golden Hall" was the name, and lyrically, it is not much different from the Amon Amarth material we are hearing today. It is songs about battles from the Viking age and stories about Thor, Odin and the rest of the gods and creatures in the Norse mythology. The big change is instead in the music itself. It is darker, rougher, and much muddier in the production, but you can still hear that this is Amon Amarth you are listening too. The melodies are definitely there, but not as clear or prominent as you can hear in albums like "Surtur Rising" and "Twilight of The Thunder God".

Let us focus instead of the pure quality of the work, which is actually quite nice. The twin guitars cooperates well together, the drums are blasting through, and Johan Hegg's voice is like a thunder storm, roaring through your speakers and blowing you away. The production does hurt the band in some degree, but it is not bad enough to make the listener miss the talent that lies behind the instruments.

The quality of the song material in "Once Sent From The Golden Hall" is quite even. All of the songs are certainly enjoyable, but none of them are any number one hits in my books. It all comes down to how good the melody lines are and how much they stick to your brain. The most memorable part in the entire album is the opening riff to "Amon Amarth". It is a slow, haunting riff that chills your bones to its core, and together with the songs steady pace, the sound effects from a grand battle, and Johan's darkest of vocals, it helps creating a fantastic setting that fits the band so well. I also get struck by the power and fury in the title track and the sweet head banging beat in "Victorious March"

You can definitely hint in this album what would come to happen with this viking group, even if the production could have been much clearer. Nonetheless, "Once Sent From The Golden Hall" is a great, even piece that offers a lot of nice, original music. Amon Amarth brings out a force that is incredibly strong, but still very melodic and well thought out. It does still needs some more polishing before this piece of coal turns into a big, shiny diamond, but the band has the drive, the sound is there, so all that is left is just to evolve and execute it all in the future.

Songs worthy of recognition: Amon Amarth, Victorious March, Once Sent From The Golden Hall

Rating: 7,5/10 Friends of The Suncross