Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Thoughts from a metal mind: The 2nd world rhythm game war

I can still remember it like yesterday, the days of my teenage years. Underachieving at school, throwing strikes while competing with my bowling team, and best of all, sitting down in front of my TV and Nintendo Wii, and just trying to beat my scores in any of the Guitar Hero or Rock Band games. It really was a wonderful time there around the mid 00's.

But since both Activision and Harmonix stopped their sort of weekly DLC launches to their games, there has been a void for gamers like me. The whole rhythm game community has almost died out, forcing elite players to actually get involved in more "real life" stuff, or just simply change direction to keep their internet personas alive and well. An example is Witwix, a great entertainer that was one of the better guitarists in the community, but now spends most of his time speed running (he has the world record for I Wanna Be The Boshy, a really tough 2D platformer).

In a short weeks, we will witness what will be the re-emergence of the plastic rock band era. Both Harmonix and Activision has presented their own new projects for the new console generation, but doing it with two very different tactics. I am really excited over this myself (even though I do not own a next gen console), just because this has been such a huge part of my own life. Without Guitar Hero or Rock Band, I would not have experienced so much awesome music and my interest for music in general would have been delayed with a couple of years. So to see these guys gear up to what will be the 2nd world rhythm game wars is just heart warming for me.

But how good are the games they are going to release? Let us do a little comparison between the games to find out, starting with the guys who started it all.

Harmonix: Rock Band 4
Harmonix and Activision started the whole craze with Guitar Hero and also developed the follow up and the sort of expansion pack Rock The 80's. But after those games, Harmonix left Activision in the dust to take it all full scale, adding drums, bass and singing to the mix. Rock Band gave a whole generations aspires of becoming a rock star, while still staying in the comfort of their own living room.

Rock Band has over the years become the biggest rhythm game series ever, spanning out to three main games, three side games (Lego, The Beatles and Green Day), and over a whooping 2000 downloadable songs through the game store, RBN (Rock Band Network) and various track packs. So to say that there were some expectations for the fourth game in the series is a huge understatement.

To develop RB4, the developers have taken advice from the fans of the series, searching what it is that they want in the game. One thing was reminded upon itself over and over again, backwards compatibility. The fans wanted that the hard earned money would not go to waste, so they wanted to be able to play on their old instruments from the older generations, and they also wanted their whole catalog of DLC to be available at launch. Said and done, the developers at Harmonix has made it happen, so if you have spent tons of hard earned money on their gear and songs, you will be able to still play with it (as long as you have stuck to either Sony or Microsoft in the next gen transition).

The thing that is the big difference from RB3 is that they are going back to basics. No more pro guitar or bass, no more keyboard, just straight up party with your plastic gear. I can understand that since it most have been a pain in the ass to chart those songs that had pro guitar and bass (they only had one or two of those songs in every DLC week), and there was no majority who played it anyway, so that was probably a smart move from Harmonix. And to amp up the party feel, they have implemented something called Freestyle solo, which means that when there is a solo, you will not see any notes, you make the notes. Play however you want and create a cool solo to impress your friends or that virtual crowd. I was a bit pessimistic over this at first, but seeing it for my own eyes, I realize that it is kind of a cool thing, just not something for the competitive spirit.

Screenshot from Rock Band 4, notice the freestyle guitar solo to the left
Otherwise, this is a game for the nostalgic one. You will recognize it instantly, and if you loved the previous games, you will most likely love this one. The only real negative thing I have to say is that the set list is kind of under whelming. It has some gems like Judas Priest "Halls of Valhalla", Dream Theater "Metropolis Pt. 1 - The Miracle And The Sleeper", and 4 Non Blondes "What's Up?", but I cannot recognize at least 50% of the songs here, and if it is like the RB3 set list, it is not so much rock over it all. This is no surprise though since almost all of the awesome songs out there are already available in either a previous set list or in DLC, and I still trust that Harmonix have created a variation that is hard to match in both musicality and difficulty (saw the hardest drum track, "Dream Genie", all I can say there is RIP bass pedal).

The positive:
The nostalgia factor
Backwards compatibility
The endless amount of DLC

The negative:
The CD set list
No online multi player (for now, might be added in a later patch)

Activision: Guitar Hero Live
After Harmonix left the Guitar Hero series, Activision teamed up with a familiar partner, Neversoft whom they worked with in the original Tony Hawk Pro Skater series. Together they created GH3: Legends of Rock, the game that got me into the whole craze. Still to this date, GH3 is one of my all time favourite video games of all time with awesome guest appearances from Tom Morello (ex-Rage Against The Machine, ex-Audioslave) and Slash (ex-Guns 'n' Roses, Velvet Revolver, Slash) and a killer set list including Slayer "Raining Blood", Iron Maiden "The Number of The Beast", and the infamous DragonForce song "Through The Fire And Flames".

Feeling the pressure from Harmonix, Activision jumped on the whole full rock band wagon and added the rest of the instruments in their next main game Guitar Hero: World Tour. I freaking hate this game, it was ugly, the hard ware was shit, and it felt extremely rushed. They did improve themselves though with every game after that, topping their form with both Guitar Hero Metallica and their last main game, Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock, but also released some half assed games (Band Hero and Greatest Hits).

I have always had a love hate relationship with Activision, because they have made some incredible games in the past, they are also know for complete turds, like the whole Call of Duty series. They are also responsible for slaughtering Crash Bandicoot, my favourite video game character of all time (the original trio + CTR was just unbelievably awesome.). So when they presented Guitar Hero Live, literally the week after Rock Band 4 was revealed, I was like "Here we go, they found out that the opposition was reviving their game, so they get right on it to steal as much cash as they can".

Unlike RB4, Guitar Hero Live is a completely different game from its predecessors. The developers started from scratch and also got rid of the whole band feel, only keeping, and re-working, the guitar. Instead of 5 colorful buttons, the new GH guitar have 6 buttons, three on the upper side and three on the lower. By doing so, they want to make this whole experience as you are actually playing different chords, moving your fingers into different positions in a two dimensional way. A cool idea for sure, and it looks good and all, but I have no idea how good the actual hard ware is. Only time will tell that.

The new GH guitar, looks real enough to me
Not only are they changing the guitar and how you play it, they are also changing the overall look to when you play the game. There are two different modes in the game, the normal mode, and GH TV. In GH TV, you rock out to the song's music video, something I have always wanted in a game like this. Just imagine rocking out to videos like Queens of The Stone Age "Go With The Flow" or Mastodon "The Motherload", just pure awesomeness. This is definitely a feature that will attract a good audience.

The normal mode however, does not look quite as good. Instead of the classic animated band and crowd, you will actually play with real people and rock a whole real crowd. Well... that is the idea. I can guarantee that this will fail because of several reasons. 1. They are all actors, and unless they act like Leonardo DiCaprio or are actual rock stars, it will become shit. 2. All movements, actions and lines will be repeated, constantly. 3. You will not be able to customize your own rock star. And finally 4. this live action capture had its glory days back in the 90's, can anyone of you name a game that used it and was a successful game? Thought so.

Hey man, can you see if I got something between my teeth?

So in the end, I am not too positive over this game, but it does have some advantages over RB4. It brings something new to the genre and the original set list is certainly better (some songs here are Megadeth "Hangar 18", In Flames "Deliver Us", Tenacious D "Tribute" and Judas Priest "Breaking The Law"). Also, it will be cheaper if you have to buy the full package compared to the full package in RB4. It will be interesting to see how Activision play this one out, but a bad feeling in my head tells me that by this time next year, we will see the second game of the series released, because that is how Activision rolls.

The positive:
Great big set list
GH TV
Improved guitar

The negative:
Live action footage
No backwards compatibility

Summary
In the end, I think Rock Band 4 will completely crush Guitar Hero Live in almost every category available. There is still a chance that GH Live will win in the sales since Activision has a history of good marketing, but the nostalgics and the community will most likely find RB4 all the more appealing, mostly since Harmonix took the advices from the fans, and made them happen. If I had a PS4 and a choice between these two games, I would definitely go for RB4, even if I was forced to spend tons of money on gear and DLC, because I know what I will get, and that is a complete rocking experience that will work well in parties, or when I am home alone jamming. Still, I am interested to see how GH Live will turn out, even if my hopes are low for it.

Give me your take on this war. Who will come out on top? And share your memories of the good old days of the plastic instruments era. Do it in the comment section here, or hit me a tweet (@FATGreviews)

Stay Metal
Robert "Sharkruisher" Andersson

Monday, September 28, 2015

Operation: Mindcrime - The Key (2015)

Geoff Tate, what a fucking hypocrite. After a juridical dispute with his former band Queensrÿche that seemed to never end, Geoff said that he was completely done with the band and was going to make music that had nothing to do with them. I call bullshit on that statement. First off, he re-names his new project Operation: Mindcrime, literally taking the name of the most famous Queensrÿche album ever made. Then, he releases a album just before his former band does, which is more or less a statement in itself. Oh, and let us not forget the fact that several members of this band is also former Queensrÿche members as well.

But the biggest reason to why Geoff has not let go of his past is in the music. It is exactly the kind of music he has been doing for his entire musical career! Nothing different from anything else he has done. Okay, it may have some more fire and passion behind it than what his last couple of Queensrÿche albums had, but it is still the same. I am absolutely not surprised over this, just disappointed that he did not come up with something more creative.

The only way he could really put his former band in place is if he wrote a killer album, a album that puts the foot down and screams "You will be sorry for kicking me out". Is "The Key" that album? Absolutely not. It does have some interesting intentions, but it is not a album that kills its opponents, mostly because it is so uneven. "Burn" is the definition of the word bland, while "Discussions In A Smoke Filled Room" is the most useless interlude ever (god damn I hate useless interludes). Also, "On Queue" is a fine song if you like slow jazz, something I do not. It just makes me sleepy, that's all.

The good stuff is there though, starting with the confusing title "Re-Inventing the Future". While Geoff has said that he would do no such thing, the song does live up to its name, being a good, modern Queensrÿche tune with solid riffing and smooth melodies. "Life or Death?" continues in the same direction, while the following song "The Stranger" takes a heavy turn, and it almost feels like Geoff is trying to get out his inner thug while still staying true to his sound. A surprisingly cool combination that may sound weird, but works out well.

The thing I enjoy the best in "The Key" is the excellent instrumentation in all of the songs. It is mostly subtle, but still well organized, creating the right mood for each of the songs. I especially like the riffing from Kelly Gray and Robert Sarzo, and also the nice saxophone in both "On Queue" and the epic finisher "The Fall". A nice little touch that gives the album a nice closure. And Geoff? How did he perform? I say ay okay.

In the end, Geoff Tate will always have that A-hole stamp on his giant, shiny head, but put it aside, and you will find a decently talented musician that can make a fairly decent album when he actually wants to. "The Key" may not make anybody fall backwards with excitement, but it does have that typical Queensrÿche groove to it, so some old fans should be satisfied in the long run. I was one of few that actually felt that the debut "Frequency Unknown" was a decent album (even if it was highly disrespectful to the original band), and I think "The Key" is another small step forward. Leaving Queensrÿche behind him? HA, good luck with that!

Songs worthy of recognition: Re-Inventing The Future, Life Or Death?, The Fall

Rating: 6,5/10 Strangers

Friday, September 25, 2015

Amon Amarth - Twilight of The Thunder God (2008)

Following up a ground breaking masterpiece is not an easy task. Trying to reach the same, cosmic heights that you have already reached and meet the expectations from fans and critics, it is quite daunting. But if you have the skills, and the right momentum, it could be a walk in the park, especially if you are in a tight, well forged group that seems to have one single goal, divide and conquer.

Yeah, there is absolutely no doubt that "Twilight of The Thunder God", the follow up to the amazing "With Oden On Our Side", is just as good as its predecessor, taking all of the things that made it so incredible and implement it into 10 astounding songs. The Swedes was really at the top of their game back then, just crushing their opposition with the mighty Mjölner at their disposal (and some instruments of course).

My first encounter with this album was the same as so many other great songs and albums, through video games. The title track was released as DLC for one of the Guitar Hero games, and once I saw the chart and heard the song, I was stunned. I had never heard such a mash up between brutality and hair raising epicness, it was literally unreal for a teenager like me. I still love the song to death, but not as much as I used to, mostly because I think there are better Amon Amarth songs out there, but also because I have listened to it so much that it has wore out on me. Still, it is one of the best songs in a album that contains no weakness.

All of the songs are so vibrant, displaying strong personalities, from the heavy groove in "Guardians of Asgaard" and sadness in "The Hero", to the Earth shattering brutality in "Where Is Your God?". It is just mind boggling that a band can fit so many emotions and feelings into a death metal album. I really cannot comprehend it all, and I freaking love it.

The band has also taken care of giving every song a big, catchy, epic chorus so that everyone can join Johan Hegg and make quite a mighty viking choir. And when the singing portion of the song is not meant to be catchy, Olavi Mikkonen makes the riffs being so instead, which is obviously displayed in songs like "Live For The Kill" and "Varyags of Miklagaard", two songs were the riffing is just unbelievably memorable.

A thing I have never noticed until I read about it in the album booklet is that this album has guest artists. It does not take anything away from the band and its performance, but it is a little surprising that these guests does not make too big of an impression to be recognized in the album. Anyway, the guests are Roope Latvala (ex. Children of Bodom, ex. Sinergy) in the title track, Lars Göran Petrov (Entombed A.D., ex. Entombed) in "Guardians of Asgaard", and Apocalyptica in "Live For The Kill". Now that I know of them, I can certainly hear them, especially Apocalyptica and their violins, but it does not change my view over the songs nor the album in general.

So how do you follow up a masterpiece? By doing another masterpiece of course! "Twilight of The Thunder God" is among my top albums of all time thanks to its extremely high standard, catchy riffs and tunes, and perfect band chemistry. And to think of that the band made this only two years after the release of "With Oden On Our Side" is just incredible, you really have to have something truly special to come up with two such perfect albums in this short amount of time. I will tell you this, Amon Amarth is certainly special, because there is no other band like them, not now, and possibly not never.

Songs worthy of recognition: The Hero, Twilight of The Thunder God, Guardians of Asgaard, Where Is Your God?, Live For The Kill

Rating: 10/10 Tattered Banners

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Mustasch - Testosterone (2015)

Oh boy, looks like the feminism movement have found a new target. I hope not, because I love Mustasch, but they are certainly playing with fire here with this, their 8th studio effort known as "Testosterone", a big, burly, manly album filled with beer, beard, sweat, and a Ralf Gyllenhammar who does not seem to take any days off at all. I mean, it was not too long ago they released their latest album ("Thank You For The Demon", early 2014), and Ralf have been busy with both touring and various TV appearances (Swedish Idol and Swedish Fort Boyard just to mention a couple).

Despite this insane speed they are holding right now, they still seem to find time to evolve the band in the process. The music is very recognizable, you can easily extinguish Ralf's unique and manly voice, and most of the riffs are true to the history of the band, but it is the urge for evolution that makes "Testosterone" a unique and interesting experience. Because despite its name, "Testosterone" is probably the most melodic and soothing Mustasch album up to date. A lot of calm experiments takes most of the focus here, which could potentially split the fans in half. I always welcome new ideas and directions, especially for bands that more or less has a certain sound to them, so I was a little impressed when I heard the album for the first time.

If you after reading the last paragraph fear that the band has turned into something extremely different, calm down, the change is not THAT drastic. It may be awkward at first, but once you get used to the thought, it is a good chance that you will appreciate such songs as the symphonic opener "Yara's Song" and the spiritual "The Rider". I am more uncertain to what role "Dreamers", "The Hunter" and Someone" has though, but I guess they are a side effect to this evolution. You cannot be perfect the first time you try out something new.

But ultimately it is the classic Mustasch material that goes loud in my cabin, because it acts as sort of a safety blanket among these new, unexplored grounds the band has taken us to. The best example of this is "Down To Earth", a speedy and catchy mauler that is more Mustasch than that part of the beard with the same name. A great, epic anthem that might be their best one since the amazing double sandwich "Double Nature" and "Bring Me Everyone" from "Latest Version of The Truth". I am sure it will have a reserved spot in the set list when the band goes out on the road later this fall. Other classic Mustasch moments in this album are "Breaking Up With Disaster", the single "Be Like A Man" and the epic title track that ends the album in terrific style.

So despite having less of it than most other Mustasch albums in the discography, "Testosterone" is a nice, fresh listen that could be the stepping stone for the band's future. It does suffer some growing pains, which does make it a fairly uneven experience, but the potential is certainly there, and I am very curious to see were it will lead. Well, if the band continues on the same pace as always, we will not have to wait too long for the next part of their evolution.

Songs worthy of recognition: Down To Earth, Yara's Song, Testosterone

Rating: 7/10 Dreamers

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Stratovarius - Eternal (2015)

If you are a fan of Finnish power metal, then 2015 has certainly been a mouth watering year for you. Not only has both Nightwish and Cain's Offering released great albums in "Endless Forms Most Beautiful" and "Stormcrow" , Amberian Dawn is about to release new material as well. But one of the most legendary of them all have also shown some new tunes this year. "Eternal" marks as the 15th studio effort from Stratovarius, a huge mile stone that many bands dreams of reaching, but only few does.

I was surely excited for this album since the band has done splendidly since Timo Tolkki left, doing better and better for each passing album. Even with my excitement, I still had concerns if the band could really match their 2013 release "Nemesis", or even the before mentioned "Stormcrow", in which Timo Kotipelto and Jens Johansson helped out on. And sure enough, "Eternal" is not an improvement over any of those two albums.

Do not get me wrong, "Eternal" is a excellent album that fits well amongst the other post-Tolkki albums, but I find it to be more of a normal power metal album with all of what you would expect. If you know the band and its discography, then you will not be surprised at all by "Eternal". It is definitely boring that it is the same old thing that is coming out through those speakers, but I can live with it as long as there is quality to it, and you know that Stratovarius has plenty of it.

The band certainly start out strong in "Eternal" with two classic Stratovarius pieces that will please the fans and be much appreciated when played live. Both "My Eternal Dream" and "Shine In The Dark" sets the bar for the rest of the album with their predictive, but effective structures and catchy melodies. "Few Are Those" stands out as well thanks to its grand chorus and really catchy riff, and "Man In The Mirror" has a hard edge to it that I enjoy. The band ends "Eternal" with the massive 10+ minute epic "The Lost Saga", a nice long song that ends the album in epic fashion. Stratovarius is not known for their long songs (especially since the humongous 18 minute long "Elysium" was not so successful), but this is a valid effort.

I generally like Stratovarius' last album "Nemesis" more than "Eternal" because it has more originality to it. "Eternal" just feels like "Stratovarius for dummies" because it has everything you would expect from the band. Still, the quality of the craft itself does make the album a pleasant experience, which just shows the experience the band has. Stratovarius does strengthen their position as Finland's premier export of excellent power metal, a position they have held in about 20 years. A good, solid effort, but if I would recommend a Finnish power metal album from 2015, I would still chose the Cain's Offering album "Stormcrow" over this one.

Songs worthy of recognition: My Eternal Dream, Shine In The Dark, Man In The Mirror

Rating: 7/10 Lost sagas

Monday, September 14, 2015

Slayer - Repentless (2015)

There are few albums I have been so worried about as the 11th Slayer album "Repentless". Not only becaue the band has not done a impressive album in a long time, but it was also the first one since the death of Jeff Hanneman, original guitarist and major song writer for the band. Not only that, the band has had an infected break up with drummer Dave Lombardo to top it all off. The question was now up if replacements Paul Bostaph and Gary Holt could help Slayer enough to make "Repentless" a strong force to be recon with, enough to make Jeff smile from his throne in hell.

In the last two years or so, the band has released some tastes of the albums with highly various results. First was "Implode", which I first felt was like Slayer impersonating themselves. It had aggression and fury, but it was more controlled and laid back than what I want to hear from the band. Feels like they are running on 70% steam here, which is not acceptable. The next released track was "When The Stillness Comes", which literally put me to sleep. The idea might have been okay with this dark and gloomy setting, but it did not really pay off. However, the ending of that song was both surprising and impressive, which definitely got my hopes up that "Repentless" would have some fire in it, hopes that was more or less fulfilled when the title track was released.

I can honestly say that "Repentless" is one of the best songs the band has created in the last 20 years. Combining fast drumming, frenetic riffing, and a aggression that just screams Slayer, "Repentless" is the perfect modern interpretation of the band's classic stuff. I do think that Tom Araya sounds a little troubled, struggling to get those clean screams out, but his scratchy voice does give the song a nice little extra touch that makes you forget about the short comings. All in all, a fantastic song that is the clear stand out in the entire album.

What surprise me the most with the album "Repentless" is the whole inconsistency of the songs. Some songs are pure thrash candy, while others are about as sluggish as my gran (sorry, no offense). The band is doing nothing wrong in their performance, because thanks to the multiple years of touring together with the band, Gary Holt (Exodus) has established himself into the group and created a strong, solid bond with Kerry King. Paul is also doing a good job, which does not surprise me one bit since he was in the band before (92-96 and 97-01).

No, the problem lies in the song writing, which is incredibly inconsistent. "Pride And Prejudice" is a really rough song that ends the album in a bad way, while "Cast The First Stone" and "When The Stillness Comes" creates some kind of slow void inside the album, almost splitting it in half. Just a super weird decision to put those two together. I also think "Vices" is really strange, with its lyrics about drugs, although it does make me chuckle when Tom screams "Let's get high!". Good or bad? You decide. Listen instead to the amazing riffing in "Atrocity Vendor", the fury of the Araya in "You Against You", and also "Implode", that does surprisingly get better over time (especially the second half of the song).

Despite being a uneven experience, "Repentless" does live up to its name. The band shows that they do not regret anything and that they are still here and thrashing hard, despite the various events that has happened to the band lately. As you would guess, "Repentless" is not even close to match the classic albums, but it does have its charm, and stands up as one of the better albums the band has put out in the 21st century. Slayer is surely the true definition of repentless (even if it only is a made up word).

Songs worthy of recognition: Repentless, Atrocity Vendor, You Against You

Rating: 7/10 Piano wires

Friday, September 11, 2015

Soilwork - The Ride Majestic (2015)

One of the nicer surprises in 2013 was made by Soilwork, a interesting double album called "The Living Infinite". While it did not make it into my top 20 of that year, it was still a strong effort from the band that led me to believe that they would regain some momentum after several mediocre albums. And it seems like they have utilized that new found flame well and kept it going with this, the band's 10th studio album "The Ride Majestic", a album that spins further with the ideas and influences that "The Living Infinite" had.

I definitely applaud Soilwork for continuing on the same track since I really enjoyed their last album, but I am afraid that the more I listen to "The Ride Majestic", the more it feels like a album filled with ideas that did not make it into "The Living Infinite". Not that the music in here is THAT much worse than what it was in the predecessor, but it still feels a little pale when you compare them together.

No matter what, there is still some good music to be found here, and the guys them self does a splendid job in performing it. I have always loved Björn "Speed" Strid's vocals, both harsh and clean, because he has a really broad range that gives the band some extra dimensions (just listen to "Petrichor By Sulphur" and you will hear what he is capable of). And while the rest of the band does not have as much originality as their singer, they still do their job really well, executing some great melodies and nice riff work.

I do miss the really high tops in this album, songs like "Parasite Blues", "Spectrum of Eternity" and "Rise Above The Sentiment" that gives an album a great edge to it. But at the same time, it is fairly nice that "The Ride Majestic" has a smooth, even line up of good, effective songs that binds well together. There are still some stand outs though, like the soft and catchy "Death In General", and both of the title tracks (Yes, there are two of them, "The Ride Majestic" and "The Ride Majestic (Aspire Angelic)". I would have liked a really heavy tune into this mix as well, but I guess I have to settle with "All Along Echoing Paths" who compromises with a soothing chorus and "Shining Lights" that has small new wave thrash influences in it, sort of like Trivium.

With a more even performance and a continuation on a interesting take of their sound, Soilwork has really nailed it with "The Ride Majestic". I still think "The Living Infinite" is slightly better mostly thanks to its high top, but this album is still a nice melodic death metal album that should make the fans smile, but will probably not generate a greater number of them. Soilwork seems really confident in themselves and their newly found direction, and they should be, because it is a sound that fits them well. Hopefully they do not get all too comfortable, they need some risk taking so they can keep their momentum up, and the ratings as well.

Songs worthy of recognition: Death In General, The Ride Majestic, Petrichor By Sulphur

Rating: 7,5/10 Phantoms

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Five Finger Death Punch - Got Your Six (2015)

There comes a time in your life when you just wonder why you even started to listen to a certain band in the first place. To see a band that you used to love to death become boring, stale, or simply immature. A band that at first sight looks cool, has an edge to it, but cannot stay among your favourites in the long run. For me, and I guess to a lot of other metal fans out there, Five Finger Death Punch is starting to become one of those bands. They are still a strong force in the industry and has a good following to every show they do, but their music works more like a gateway portal to the wondrous world of metal. You enjoy it at first, but you quickly discover other bands that simply makes better music.

Because for every year that passes, I am starting to realize why most of the metal community despise 5FDP. They are loud, close to obnoxious, and does not seem to evolve too much, neither musically nor in the lyrics. So when I first saw the cover to the band's sixth album "Got Your Six", I almost puked. Just look at Knucklehead! How much steroids did has he been taking? He made a complete Axl Rose, going from a sort of skinny, cool character, to a humongous joke. I really do not even here, seriously.

And it does not get better whenever I get into the music that is inside. The title track does not make any sense to me, like when Ivan Moody sings that he got my six, I have no freaking idea what he is talking about. Does he mean a six pack? Has he six fingers in one hand? Somebody tell me! Well, the band has never been well known for writing intricate lyrics in the past, and that reputation will not change one bit with this album.

It has always been the music that got me into 5FDP, and I do admit that "Got Your Six" has some good power to it, something the band never fails to deliver. But judging by the cover, I expected a shit load of power running me over like a steamroller. But no, "Got Your Six" is surprisingly calm, containing several 5FDP styled ballads, and is actually also missing that insane, double bass pounding face crusher a la "Dot Your Eyes" and "Under And Over It". This makes "Got Your Six" seem a lot softer compared to its predecessors, something you could either see as a sign of maturity, or just a lack of energy from the frequent album releasing (6 albums in 8 years is quite a rate).

Another thing this album lacks of is memorability. For a new listener, it might be easy to remember the songs, but for one who have heard the band's entire discography, it is easy to forget these tunes in favor of early, similar material. The only song I can really remember on the top of my head is "Jekyll And Hyde", a boring, sluggish ice hockey anthem that should go well on live shows, but just feels all around lazy in disc format. The worst part about it though is that it is the only song in the album that shows some kind of evolution in the music, so the future does not look very bright.

But are there any gems in here that should be mentioned? Yes, in fact, there are some good tracks in here that does save the album from total annihilation. "Question Everything" does a nice job in balancing between the heavy and the beautiful aspects of the band, "Wash It All Away" has a fairly nice flow to it, and even if I do not understand the lyrics, I do feel like "Got Your Six" is the only song that does have some big balls to it, making it an instant stand out among weaklings. Those are the only few highlights in the entire album, which absolutely sucks since the band has a history of creating some great catchy songs, both heavy and slow.

I will probably never give up entirely on 5FDP, just because they are a powerful bunch of men that brings their own thing to the world of metal, and can create some stellar music when everything clicks together. Unfortunately, there is not much in "Got Your Six" that works all too well. It all feels stale and unimaginative, a big brick of washed up ideas and nonsense. I think the band needs to slow things down a bit (not musically speaking) and take their time with their next album, just to make sure that they do not toss out some half finished projects. This is the worst 5FDP album up to date so far, but if they stay in the loop that they have gotten themselves into, it might be overtaken in the near future. Let us hope that it does not happen.

Songs worthy of recognition: Question Everything, Got Your Six, Wash It All Away

Rating: 4/10 Steroid Junkies

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Iron Maiden - The Book of Souls (2015)

To say that this was the most anticipated record of 2015 is a massive understatement. It has been five very long years since one of the biggest and most influential metal bands of all time released their big progressive epic "The Final Frontier", a record most would think that it was the culmination of Iron Maiden's progressive era. How wrong we all were on that note.

Entering "The Book of Souls", a massive double album that would have been released earlier this year, but because of the news about Bruce's cancer tumours it got delayed, just to be sure that Bruce would be completely healthy and ready for another world tour. And even if this album was recorded before they discovered the tumours, it still feels awesome that Bruce sings with the same power, emotion and passion like he always has. It also feels good, but not at least surprising, that the rest of the band performs like they do, like true professionals. Steve Harris' exciting bass lines are loud and clear, just like it should be in a Maiden record, Nico McBrain's drumming never misses a beat, and all of the three guitarists share the workload equally in a record that is loaded with fantastic riffs and solos. The performance is just as you would expect, flawless.

Despite being a whole 16 minutes longer than its predecessor "The Final Frontier", I find "The Book of Souls" and its 92 minutes of playtime is a little easier to swallow down. Because even if the album should obviously be counted as a full on progressive record, with 3 out of the 11 songs going over the 10 minute mark, it has more of the old Maiden in it than what "The Final Frontier" had. I hear a little bit of "Seventh Son of A Seventh Son" here, and I hear a little "Powerslave" there, which does make me smile. It definitely feels like they want too keep evolving their sound, but uses influences from the past in doing so, which is kind of cool.

Just like in "The Final Frontier", it is the shorter and more simplistic songs that are the odd ones out in this record, mostly because they cannot hold up against the shear quality the epics contain, but that certainly does not mean that they outright suck. The first single, "Speed of Light", is up there with "The Wicker Man" as the best first single made by the band since the return of Bruce with its epic chorus and amazing bridge riff, one of the best riffs in the whole album. Then we have "Tears of A Clown", a nice homage to the comedian Robin Williams, whom took his own life over a year ago, but the song itself is kind of meh. A soft melody that you can easily listen too, but it is not something you would be amazed by. And while I do like "Death Or Glory" for bringing some good variety to the album with its fast pace, I cannot let go that the build up is more or less stolen from Black Sabbath's "Never Say Die". Cannot be unheard of, but it is still a great song that gives the second disc a running start. Another stolen bit, if you could say that since they stole it from themselves, is the opening part of "Shadows of The Valley". It is awfully similar to the opening part of "Wasted Years". The rest of the track has nothing to do with the song though, so it is all good (although they do mention "Sea of Madness", another track from my favourite Maiden record, "Somewhere In Time").

Besides these "low" points, "The Book of Souls" holds an amazingly high standard throughout all of the 92 minutes, which is mighty impressive since most bands who tries to make a double album falls through and are forced to fit in some fillers. And while some might find the long length of the songs and the piled up Iron Maiden cliches to be boring, I do not, since there is no other band like them. Not before, not today, and I doubt in the future either.

Judging the two discs individually, I would say that the first disc is the better one, just because it is more cohesive in its sound, while the second disc does not only lack the same quality as disc one, but also feels a little more torn apart in its sense of direction. But the biggest reason to why I enjoy disc one more is that it contains three of the strongest songs of the whole album. The opener "If Eternity Should Fail" has one of the mightiest intros I have ever heard of, and it is backed up with a nice catchy chorus and great playful ending. The title track shows just how good the band is at capturing a civilization into a heavy metal track, making this track the perfect representation for the Mayans.

But the absolute highlight of the album is without a shadow of a doubt "The Red And The Black". When I listened to this album the first time, together with a bunch of other Maiden fans in a listening party, it was obvious that this track was the most popular one, and I totally get why. From the devilish bass intro and the mesmerizing riffs, to the constant tempo changes and the seemingly endless solos, this track is one of the absolute best tracks the band has ever created. But the thing that really takes it up to that Maiden level is the sing along parts, that are very simplistic, but do it together with a group of people (being 10 or 10 000, doesn't matter) and it can shake the Earth. Despite its length of 13 minutes, it should have a rightful place in the set list of the coming tour, and could become a modern "Fear of The Dark".

The first disc is certainly favorable, but the second one has its greats moments as well, especially the most anticipated track of them all. Clocking in at 18 minutes and 1 second, "Empire of The Clouds" is the longest Maiden song ever created, and together with "If Eternity Should Fail", it is the first Maiden track since "Bring Your Daughter... To The Slaughter" that is entirely written by Dickinson. I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed at it when I first heard it, but it has grown immensely on me. This song, like most great epics, is a grower and demands great focus and patience, with its slow and delicate opening (in which Bruce plays the piano!) that eventually gathers momentum the further it goes, only to end in another piano part. A truly stunning ending to an amazing double record.

We all have to realize that no matter how good the band is, and no matter how long they will go on for, Iron Maiden will never create another album as awesome like "Powerslave", "Somewhere In Time" or "Seventh Son...", so you just have to accept it. Once you do, it becomes perfectly clear that "The Book of Souls" is a fucking incredible record that just goes to show how good the band really is. Despite its length and despite it being a double album, it flies by extremely fast when listening through it, just because everything in it is so well done, so thought out, and so god damn orgasmic. This is definitely my favourite Maiden record from the 21st century, and it just makes me so excited for the upcoming tour, and to see what the band can produce in the future. I am still waiting for that full on concept album, do I dare to hope that it will become the band's next album project? I sure hope though that it does not take another five years for it to emerge, but if it holds the same quality as "The Book of Souls", then I will not mind at all. Up the Irons!

Songs worthy of recognition: The Red And The Black, If Eternity Should Fail, The Book of Souls, Death Or Glory, Empire of The Clouds

Rating: 9,5/10 Great Unknowns

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Amon Amarth - With Oden On Our Side (2006)

With the release of Amon Amarth's 6th album "With Oden On Our Side", it was not only a new album in a already interesting career, it also marked the beginning of a whole new era for the band. Because it is here where all the black metal roots are cut off, and are instead replaced with more melodic vibes, helping to create the Amon Amarth we all have gotten to know for the last ten years. And with the fairly mediocre "Fate of Norns" behind them, this was indeed the perfect time to bounce back with force.

And how they turned it around! Instantly upon starting the album, you get hit by the amazing riffing assault signed by Olavi Mikkonen and Johan Söderberg, mixing both frenetic fast riffs with more melodic ones. I especially love how they worked together in "Cry of The Black Birds", such a fantastic symbiote that creates beautiful music. And as always, Johan Hegg lifts the album with his amazing vocal performance, never missing a tone, always bringing the powerful impact. And yes, even bassist Ted Lundström and drummer Fredrik Andersson helps a lot to give the album its unique personality.

But the main part of why the album is a killer is the songs. God damn, there are so many great songs in this album that you can almost drown in them. And it is not like they all follow the same recipe of success, the variety is about as great as the overall quality is. We got the fast and heavy "Asator", the epic "Runes To My Memory", the goose bump inducing "Cry of The Black Birds", the beautiful "Under The Northern Star", and the rifftastic "Valhall Awaits Me". You turn your head, and you find a great song. You take a step to the side, and find another one. The album is so stacked with great songs that you cannot get away from them before you have gone through all of them, only to realize later that you wanna get back to them as soon as possible. Only the songs "Hermod's Ride To Hel - Loke's Treachery Part 1" and "Prediction of Warfare" falls a little bit short, not because they are bad, but because the rest of the field is so much more memorable.

And what would a Amon Amarth album be like without its Norse mythology inspired lyrics. As some of you might have guessed from the album title, the main theme of the album is about men who feel like the gods are on their side, helping them to bring victory. But there is always that one song that strikes me the most with its lyrical story, and in "With Oden On Our Side", that song is "Runes To My Memory". It has a story about a man defeated in battle, a man that will be immortalized in a rune stone so the generations afterwards will know of his heroic deeds. Great story telling that is accompanied with Johan Hegg and his emotional viking screams, creating the perfect atmosphere for the track.

By Oden's beard, this is such an amazing album. Everything, from the cleanly executed production to the perfect instrumentation, is just neck breakingly awesome. The band has always had this potential in them (and they were damn near to already fulfill it in "Versus The World") and it just feels so good to hear that every ounce of blood, sweat, and tears have payed of big time for them. "With Oden On Our Side" is the ultimate viking album, definitely worthy for the gods and us mortals. So if you are ever unsure of this guys really are the real deal or not, give this album a listen, and be prepared to get blown away, stunned, and maybe feel the urge of plundering a village or two.

Songs worthy of recognition: Cry of The Black Birds, Valhall Awaits Me, Runes of My Memory, Asator, Under The Northern Star

Rating: 10/10 Gods of War