Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Live review: Paul Di'Anno at James Rockbar, Halmstad, Sweden

Soooooo... how did it all come to this? The original voice of Iron Maiden, the greatest and biggest heavy metal band ever emerged, coming to Sweden, 34 years after he got kicked out of the band, for a 4 day, 4 stop mini tour where the main set list consisted of the two albums he contributed with? The metal gods sure work in strange ways, but it is safe to say that Paul Di'Anno has not had it easy since he was replaced by Bruce Dickinson. He has done a series of different project, without any real success, which has almost forced him to live on that he was a part of Maiden's two first albums ("Iron Maiden" and "Killers").

So I had no expectations at all going into the show in James Rockbar, Halmstad, a show that would not have happened if not the HFL festival in Motala canceled out. No matter what, I was ready for a night with some old school Maiden tunes, probably the last time he would ever perform these gems. But first, the opening act.

Opening act: Revelations

Opening up for Paul is the Stockholm band Revelations, who plays classic 70's heavy metal, of course heavily inspired by such bands as Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden (huh, what a coincidence).

They played around 6 or 7 songs during the 40 minutes they were on stage, and it was a fairly solid set that may have started out a little cautious, but improved more as the show went on. Since I have not heard of the band before, it was also the first time I heard the songs, and it was the darker, heavier songs that got to me the most. Especially Sun of Morning and Grip of Darkness impressed me a lot with their dark atmosphere and hypnotizing musicality. Definitely got me interested in what else the band could do.

The band itself did a great job, squeezing the most out of the few that dared to step towards the stage (est. 30 people). I especially liked the singer, Lasse Gudmundsson, who not only did look like a rock star, but sang as one as well. His voice is kind of a mix between Joacim Cans and Rob Halford, which for me spells instant success.

The band did an overall nice job, but since they were opening up the night, they did not play for such a big audience, which is a shame since they deserved more. Oh well, the band is working on their debut record, which should be out soon enough, and you can be sure that I will listen to it whenever it comes. If all of the songs performed this night is in that album, then I am sure it will be a nice listen.

Best: "Grip of Darkness" and "Sun of Morning"

Worst: The band deserved a bigger crowd

Rating: 7,5/10

Set list (not necessarily in this order):
Grip of Darkness
Strange Dreams
Sun of Morning
Time Bomb (think it was called that, idk)
+ 1 or 2 more songs

Main act: Paul Di'Anno

Let me first tell you about the beginning of this night, the 25th of July 2015. Some time before Revelations even started, I was at the bar, having a beer when this peculiar short, sort of fat and bald fellow came into the building, walking on crutches slowly across the floor. I was just thinking "who is that guy? How is he gonna get through the night?" when it suddenly occurred to me. That short, sort of fat and bald dude was Paul Di'Anno himself! Yep, you read that correctly.

And if it was not obvious that he was hurt before, it got crystal clear when he entered the stage, barely making it over 3 steps of stairs, and slowly walking to a chair that was placed in the center. Apparently, he was suffering from a bad knee or something and was waiting for surgery back in England, but instead of sitting home and, in his own words, watch TV and scratch his balls, he might as well be out touring. Should once again be noted that this was the last stop of a 4 day, 4 show tour. That is freaking nuts, the man was in serious pain and he still got up there, ready to deliver a show. Respect!

The beast arises... slowly
Anyway, not surprisingly, the whole set list was focused on the only thing we remember Paul Di'Anno from, his contribution in the two first Iron Maiden albums. All the hits was played during the evening by Paul and his supporting band (couldn't remember what they were called, but they were from Norway), everything from the instrumentals "Genghis Khan" and "Transylvania", the blood pumping "Running Free", and the amazing and versatile "Phantom of The Opera". Only two songs from Paul's career after Maiden was represented in the set list, and both "The Beast Arises" and "Children of Madness" was received mildly by the close to half full local (est. 200 people perhaps). It was clear that the audience wanted Maiden tunes, and nothing else.

The only song that was left out was, a little surprisingly, "Iron Maiden". The excellent punk attack would have been the perfect way to finish the show, but instead, the ending of the show was more or less a cover medley. Starting with the Ramones classic "Blitzkrieg Bop" and some Sex Pistols song I did not recognize (it was definitely not "Anarchy In The U.K."), it really started to go down hill from there, but the ending was saved with two Judas Priest classics, "You've Got Another Thing Coming" and "Breaking The Law". The crowd seemed okay with it and sang loudly together with Paul. Still, feels dumb to make other musicians songs as your grand finale.

But how did Paul perform? Well, I hate to say this, but it is obvious that he is on the final stretch of his career. I barely heard his voice throughout the concert, and the few times I did hear him, he did not sing all too well. It was obvious that he was exhausted and tired, but I still want to give him kudos for sticking it all the way through, wanting to give the people a show. His small talk was great, not giving any fucks over dicks on the dance floor or about whiny pop stars that cancel shows for a common cold.

Who said you have to stand up to rock?
Understandingly, there was no encore, Paul had given his all throughout the around 1 and a half hour show that went on to about 2 am. He got himself some much needed rest, and I really hope that he gets better soon. If he does not, then how the hell is he gonna handle his new musical project Architects of Chaoz? No matter what, this evening was memorable for a lot of reasons, but the thing that probably will stick with me the most is the man's fighting spirit, his drive to give the metal heads in Halmstad a great show. Yes, the show had flaws, but the upsides of it definitely outweighs the downsides. So thank you Paul Di'Anno, for coming here and playing for us, and not sitting in front of your TV, scratching your balls.

Best: "Phantom of The Opera"

Worst: What's with that big cover medley as the big finale?

Rating: 8/10

Set list (all Iron Maiden songs except noted):
The Ides of March
Murders In The Rue Morgue
The Beast Arises (Killers song)
Children of Madness (Paul Di'Anno's Battlezone song)
Genghis Khan
Phantom of The Opera
Charlotte The Harlot
Running Free
Blitzkrieg Bop (Ramones cover)
some Sex Pistols song
You've Got Another Thing Coming (Judas Priest cover)
Breaking The Law (Judas Priest cover)

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Amon Amarth - Fate of Norns (2004)

After a massive assault in "Versus The World", Amon Amarth took a small step back in their 5th attempt, entitled "Fate of Norns". I instantly notice that it does not have the same ferocious will to bombard the listener with crushing riffs and blast beats like the previous 4 albums have. But what is it that had been changed during the two years between this album and its predecessor? Hegg himself says that the album is more mature, which does explain the more toned down approach, but it does not explain why the album just feels so lack luster.

Call me Sonic The Hedgehog, but I mostly like things fast. I want action, something to get me going, and Amon Amarth has given me just that with their previous releases. But on "Fate of Norns", they give me something else, a new direction that does not necessarily show a new side of the band, but instead proves that the Swedes are versatile and can make albums with unique personalities. It may not have worked towards my full approval, but I still think it is a bold, nice step for the band, which prevents them from the so called "Motörhead" syndrome, which basically is making the same album over and over again, changing very little.

Even if I was sceptical of the change at first, several strong songs did make me appreciate the album a lot more. The most obvious one is of course "The Pursuit of Vikings", a Amon Amarth classic that still to this date has a permanent slot on the band's tour set list. The tempo and attitude of the song is quite mediocre, but it is the nice lyrics and the fantastic riffs that really lifts the song, making it stand out. The opener "An Ancient Sign of Coming Storm" also shows some great riffing, while the title track has some of the band's best lyrics so far, about a father, watching his young child die and later bury him. Strong stuff that fits so well with the mood of the music.

The only song I would consider to be closely related to the band's early work is "Valkyries Ride", a dark song where especially Fredrik Andersson and Johan Hegg shows their evil side, bringing out a true demonic performance. Certainly one of the better songs in this album, especially since it is the only one in that category that comes out of "Fate of Norns". I do wished that "Fate of Norns" showed some more anger, because it just feels sort of stiff, like the band is too comfortable with their current situation. If the band had gone a little more buck wild, both in performance and in production, they might have turned this into another true master piece.

I am definitely two sided over "Fate of Norns", mostly because it is a different album from its predecessors. I still enjoy it, but I feel like a junkie whom has not gotten a fix in a while, I got the withdrawals for something fast and fierce. However, it cannot be easy for this album to follow up such an amazing piece as "Versus The World", having a whole lot to live up to, but it still holds up fairly well, thanks to a couple of great, stand out songs, and a fresh intention that shows a forward drive. The fate still shines bright for the band, even if this is a slight slip up.

Songs worthy of recognition: Fate of Norns, An Ancient Sign of Coming Storm, The Pursuit of Vikings

Rating: 6,5/10 Arsons

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Cradle of Filth - Hammer of The Witches (2015)

When Cradle of Filth first was formed back in the early 90's, the band was one of the pioneers and creators of extreme metal, showing off a evil the world has never seen. Now, over 20 years later, they are about as harmful as a cup of milk, especially compared to all of the endless black metal and satanic acts that is out there today. But is it possible for the English band to gain back some of the fearful respect they acquired in the early stages of their career? This new release could make the answer to lean towards the yes side.

It is not that the band's 11th effort "Hammer of The Witches" is their most terrifying record yet, but it does contain a sort of self awareness, in which the band seem to understand that they have to stop focusing on the horror and the darkness, and instead focus on what really matters, the music. And they really seem to do just that, even if some of the songs here are on the lighter side, "Hammer of The Witches" still holds that Cradle of Filth vibe that we know all too well. It is fast, technical, dark, but not as heavy as several of their previous efforts.

The quality is there though, and it is shown instantly with "Yours Immortality...", a track with a lot of mean riffing, blasting beats, and a wide diversity. And the strong attacks from the band just keeps on coming. With songs like "Deflowering The Maidenhead, Displeasuring The Goddess" and "Blackest Magick In Practice", the band has a great foundation to stand on, and to build upon.

But for some odd reason, the band loses momentum further into the album, making "Hammer of The Witches" a "are we there yet?" experience. The record is generally a pleasant listen, but it would not have hurt the Cradle to cut one or two songs to make it tighter. And the fact that I got a version which includes two bonus tracks (both fairly mediocre) does not help the matter.

Despite being a little too long, "Hammer of The Witches" is an interesting album that certainly fulfill your needs for a daily dose of good, demonic metal. It definitely seem like their move to Nuclear Blast has served the band well, first delivering a nice offering in "The Manticore And Other Horrors", and now this. I do not think that Dani Filth and the rest of his crew will ever relive the time when they were one of the more evil acts in the business, but they should gain back some recognition with this excellent release.

Songs worthy of recognition: Blackest Magick In Practice, Yours Immortality..., "Deflowering The Maidenhead, Displeasuring The Goddess"

Rating: 7,5/10 Christian Soldiers

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Between The Buried And Me - Coma Ecliptic (2015)

The latest released album that has gotten a perfect score from me in this blog was a album that was released in 2012, and was made by the band whose next record I will write more of here. That's right, the Americans in Between The Buried And Me got that perfect 10 with their ultra epic concept album "The Parallax II: Future Sequence", an incredible album that was the perfect continuation to the 3 song EP released one year earlier ("The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues"). It is a album I still come back to from time to time, and keep finding new small details that I have not discovered yet. This off course made me a little worried that the follow up to that master piece would be a let down, sort of a middle of the road album. Fortunately for us, Between The Buried And Me is not your average type of band, taking their time to make sure that their next effort would hold a high standard.

So three years have passed since the Parallax saga had been presented, and finally, the band has revealed their new story. "Coma Ecliptic, BTBAM's seventh full length effort, is a story of a man that is stuck in a coma, and relives all of his past lives he have lived during the ages. A concept well expected from the band, interesting and deep in context, having a lot of room to really build upon with their imagination. And just like they have done with several of their releases, the album itself runs seamlessly from start to finish, giving the illusion that the whole album is one big song, while in fact it is 11 songs. Just a perfect excuse to listen to "Coma Ecliptic" in its entirety.

The biggest strength to BTBAM has always been their enormous versatility, containing a unique sound that ranges from jazz and prog, to death metal. Actually, scrap the death metal part, at least for this album. "Coma Ecliptic" is the "cleanest" album made so far by the band, containing very little blast beats or harsh vocals from Tommy Giles Rogers. So for those who was hoping for a new "Prequel To The Sequel" or "Telos", tough luck, but be happy that the band is just as good even with the minimal death metal references. Tommy uses his clean vocals with great precision, creating a nice overall mood, and when he needs to use his harsh vocals, he does it equally well. The guitars are also using a cleaner approach to really give this album a unique personality that stands out against the rest of the BTBAM discography. The album is still clearly a progressive metal album, but it is without a doubt the calmest record yet made by the band.

As stated before, "Coma Ecliptic" is just like its predecessor best experienced in its entirety, but "The Parallax II..." still had a extremely strong line up of individual songs, something that "Coma Ecliptic" cannot really match, mostly since the songs goes in the same wave length, not differentiating too much from each other. However, this does not mean that the stand alone tracks in this album are weak on their own, they all hold up nicely so that those with little free time and short attention span can also enjoy the album, track by track. The previously released songs ("The Coma Machine", "Famine Wolf" and "Memory Palace") are probably the songs that contains the most memorable moments in the album, which also makes them stand out more compared to the rest of the album. But it is ultimately the small intricate details that makes you come back to a BTBAM album, and this one has lots of them everywhere, even if I do miss a true WTF moment, like the one in "Extremophile Elite" where all of a sudden, a xylophone steals the show.

Between The Buried And Me has done it again, "Coma Ecliptic" is another world class concept album that not only tells an interesting tale, but also contains amazing musicianship. The band keeps on evolving their sound with tons of different influences, while still keeping a core that is whole heartedly their own. It takes its listener to take it all in, but once it is inside your brain, you do not want to forget it, just remember back to it with a big smile on your face. The band is without any doubt the leading progressive metal band in this era, and I am stoked that I will see them live again this fall. Hopefully, I myself will not fall into a coma by then. But then again, maybe I would have to live my own version of "Coma Ecliptic" then, and that is not too shabby.

Songs worthy of recognition: Memory Palace, The Coma Machine, King Redeem / Queen Serene, Turn On The Darkness

Rating: 9/10 Dim Ignitions


More reviews of Between The Buried And Me
The Parallax II: Future Sequence

Automata I

Monday, July 6, 2015

Amon Amarth - Versus The World (2002)

Almost every band has a point in their career when their music and recognition reaches the next level, a album or a certain event that changes the band's future for the greater good. For the Swedish melodic death metal band Amon Amarth, that point was around 2002, with the release of their fourth full length effort, entitled "Versus The World". This is where all of the hard work the band has put through the three previous records has led up to, a unique, captivating sound that is melodic, demonic, and outright awesome. This is when the true ability of Amon Amarth was born and shown to the world.

The first thing that strikes you instantly is the production, that is beating the crap out of its predecessors. Peter Tägtgren and the rest of the gang finally got it right to make Amon Amarth stand out as much as possible in the disc format. It is as clean as it could ever be without losing the much needed edge to give the music its toughness, and finally, you can really hear how talented the guys really are. The slamming beats of Fredrik Andersson, the beautiful and technical effort from Olavi Mikkonen and Johan Söderberg's guitars, the steadfast bass by Ted Lundström, and last, but certainly not least, Johan Hegg and his amazing viking voice. OH, THE SHIVERS!

And together with these fantastic performers, "Versus The World" displays some high quality tunes to make it a really powerful record. Starting off with "Death In Fire" and its heavy double bass, the album instantly takes command over your ears, blasting them with all their power. "Death In Fire" certainly sets the bar high for the remaining 8 songs of the album, and fortunately, it is not overly high that it seems like the highlight of the album already has been passed. However, since the album is so even throughout, I cannot simply point at one song and say that it is the absolute highlight of the album, so I rather look at the entire album as one humongous highlight of its own.

But there are some songs that do stand out a little more than the others (although the difference between the best and the least best song is very slim). "Across The Rainbow Bridge" stands out a lot thanks to its more beautiful approach, focusing more on creating a sort of sad, but still hopeful mood instead of pounding heavily. A real beaut of a song. Then we have the title track that uses the patented Amon Amarth riffing so perfectly that it makes me drool floods, and the same can be said in "Where Silent Gods Stand Guard" and "Thousand Years of Oppression". I also have to mention the final track of the album, called "...And The World Will Cease To Be", a track that has great, memorable riff, and an overall structure and mood to perfectly close this show so the listener leaves as happy as possible. What and amazing end to "Versus The World".

Sadly, I do find some flaws with "Versus The World", not any big flaws, but noticeable enough to scratch its silky smooth surface. I said earlier that the album is incredibly even in its performance, and that is like an double edged sword. While it does make it a great album, it does have slight tendencies to becoming stale when you are listening at it for too long, especially since the songs are pretty similar to each other. I also miss some catchy choruses, or something else that does make the memorability factor higher in this album.

No matter what, this is where Amon Amarth's journey truly takes off into infinity, finalizing their transformation to a world class act. "Versus The World" has the quality, the power, the width, and the intensity that all of the other Amon Amarth albums have strived for, but never really reached. With 9 fantastic songs, and five band members who are at the top of their game, this album delivers the goods in such a way that it would make Odin fall off from his throne in Asgard. Amon Amarth 1 - The World 0.

Songs worthy of recognition: Across The Rainbow Bridge, Death In Fire, Down The Slopes of Death, ...And The World Will Cease To Be

Rating: 9,5/10 Bloodsheds

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Muse - Drones (2015)

After some weird experimenting in both "The Resistance" and "The 2nd Law", the English rockers in Muse has now gone back to what made them a big name in the first place, a more direct rock sound that focuses more on simplistic, groovy beats than complex, electronic vibes. It is a decision I welcome with open arms since most of the band's best material was simple, but very effective, captivating the listener with Matt Bellamy's entrancing voice and spaced out guitar playing.

The new album is called "Drones", it is the band's seventh full length effort, and it is actually a concept album, following the journey of the protagonist who loses hope, and eventually becomes this sort of human drone, only to later revolt and take down his enemies. I had quite some trouble understanding the full concept and its meaning at first, but the more research I did, the clearer the picture became. It is an interesting concept indeed, even if the lyrics itself are far from convincing.

Musically, it stands clear that the band is back where they belong. "Drones" reminds me quite well of the band during the period of where they released their two most memorable pieces to date, "Absolution" in 2003 and "Black Holes And Revelations" in 2006. It is strong stadium rock where the whole image is the main factor to make it as good as possible. It is unmistakeably Muse you are listening to, no question about that.

Even if I highly enjoy that the band is back to their roots, doing what they do best, I feel like the song material on "Drones" are a little watered out. The whole arrangement is not as crisp as I would have wanted it to be, with the music swinging from good to mediocre in every turn. I especially miss some really catchy choruses to go together with the excellent musicianship, because several songs, like "The Handler" and "Defector", have a great core, but miss that memorability factor that made songs like "Knights of Cydonia" and "Hysteria" so god damn awesome.

There is still plenty of goodness for all Muse fans though, even if I think none of the songs here will become true classics, but some might be fun, lasting live songs. "Mercy" is just a typical Muse song that would be so good live, while in the CD format, it feels kind of underwhelming. Still, a great song that stands out for all the good reasons. "Psycho" entertains the listener with a groovy riff and a beat that is a lot like the one in "Uprising", with it being a straight out copy, while the 10 minute epic "The Globalist" shows off all of Muse's tricks, from intense riffing to calm melody lines a la "Bohemian Rhapsody". I personally find most of the unmentioned material fairly dull, but I think that some of you guys would appreciate them more than me.

So after their weird phase, it is good to have Muse back where they belong. "Drones" may not be a instant classic, being a plain narrated concept album, but it should easily win back the hearts of the fans that did not care much for the band's two latest releases. It is still straight forward rock and roll with some psychedelic elements mixed into it, so I am still happy about this record. Not their best, but still a good enjoyable album.

Songs worthy of recognition: Mercy, Psycho, The Handler

Rating: 7/10 Drill Sergeants