Friday, December 30, 2016

Best of 2016: Part 3, top 20 albums of the year

Well, here we are, at the end of another year, and as usual, I release my top list last. I know that December is an extremely slow month for music, but I like to take that time to catch up on what I have missed (why nobody else seems to do that is beyond me). While there are albums that I simply have not had the time for, I am pretty confident they would have not ended up on this list. Oh well, I will get around to them eventually, but for now, here are my favourite albums of this year.

20. Alter Bridge - The Last Hero

It may not have as strong of a foundation as "Fortress", but "The Last Hero" still has a lot of fire power to it, with excellent songs like "The Writing On The Wall, "Island of Fools", and "Show Me A Leader". Myles Kennedy still sounds awesome, and so does Tremonti and his guitar work, solidifying the band's rough edge sound. They are most certainly my favourite rock band right now.

19. King Goat - Conduit

King Goat's debut album must have been made through some sort of witchcraft, because I get in a trance when I listen to it, which is really interesting since doom metal is not normally my cup of tea, but this album has so much magic to it, capturing your full attention with its great guitar sound and emotional vocals. Definitely a band to look out for in the future.

18. Be'lakor - Vessels

I am pissed at myself for not discovering Be'lakor earlier, especially since the band has gotten good praise in the past, and I simply ignored it for... reasons. Well, I am not doing that mistake again (at least for this band), because "Vessels" is an awesome melodic progressive death metal record that has an atmosphere taken from some beautiful alien planet. I really need to listen to the rest of their catalog now.

17. Insomnium - Winter's Gate

When a band does an "one song" album, they better make that song fucking incredible, otherwise it is all to waste. Fortunately, Insomnium rarely disappoints, something that my 2014 list also proves with "Shadows of The Dying Sun" being in it. "Winter's Gate" is a dense record/song, and it will take time, but you can be sure that it will grow on you, showing all of its talents as it unravels.

16. Thrawsunblat - Metachthonia

The full length debut "Thrawsunblat II: Wanderer On The Continent of Saplings" was interesting, but lacked that extra edge, something that this album certainly does not miss. Thrawsunblat takes their sound and evolves it further with tighter song writing and stronger instrumental work. It still feels like they have another gear in them, so I hope we get to hear that in the next album.

15. Testament - Brotherhood of The Snake

While building my list, I was surprised to see that Testament was the only thrash band that did make it in here, because that genre had an amazing year. With that said though, Testament simply made an amazing record. It is true Testament thrash at its best, more than holding up to their current era releases. In a year that showed so many different new sides of metal, "Brotherhood of The Snake" stays true to the band's sound, and delivers big time with a great knockout punch.

14. Allegaeon - Proponent For Sentience

I do not think there is any other technical death metal band out there that is as fun as Allegaeon. Not only do the guy have a sense of humour that is just wonderful, their musical style reflects it too, mixing catchy riffs and blast beats that is a blast to listen to. Also, when you have a song that fully celebrates science, you are almost guaranteed a spot on my list.

13. Witherscape - The Northern Sanctuary

When Dan Swanö is steering the boat, you know that quality is abound, and there is plenty of it on "The Northern Sanctuary". After a mediocre, but promising, first effort in "The Inheritance", Witherscape goes for the skies with this album, delivering a pack of great songs that are equally beautiful, catchy, and heavy. It is an uplifting album, even with its apocalyptic feeling.

12. Fleshgod Apocalypse - King

This band has always been one of the bands that I have found interesting, but have also had a hard time loving. Well, long story short, "King" convinced me big time. This is a symphonic death metal gold mine, a bombastic record that just pounds your face to the table over and over again. And while the band has done that before, "King" does it with more finesse, getting a more stable mix of the symphonic and the heavy. It also helps that FA contains some of the most technically skilled musicians in metal, and concept writers for that matter.

11. Moonsorrow - Jumalten Aika

I honestly did not think I would love this album as much as I did, and I did not after the first initial listens, but "Jumalten Aika" grew on me, unraveling its many roots and branches all over me. It takes time to love it, especially since the average length of a song here is around 13 minutes, but give it the time it deserves, and you will be rewarded with stunning black folk metal, straight from the darkest forest of Finland.

10. Mistur - In Memoriam

Just like "Jumalten Aika", "In Memoriam" is a dark and long record that takes time to fully appreciate. The thing that takes it up to my top 10 though is that Mistur finds way to bend in these epic melodic sounds into their epic black viking folk metal. The whole album is rock solid, never missing a beat, never taking a side step. It simply attacks head first into battle, and does so with great success.

9. DGM - The Passage

The Italians of DGM really delivered a progressive masterpiece with "The Passage", and it comes with all of the elements you need to make one. An epic two part song? Check. Awesome songs that shows diversity? Oh, absolutely. Cool guest appearances from Tom Englund (Evergrey) and Michael Romeo (Symphony X)? You bet! DGM just nails everything with this release, and does so with extreme confidence and determination.

8. The Dillinger Escape Plan - Dissociation

If this will ultimately go down as the swan song of this band (which everything points towards), it is a hell of a mess they leave behind. "Dissociation" is one of the most chaotic records, not only in 2016, but for at least the last decade. It's got metal core, thrash, death metal, ambient, and even fucking electronic music. Everything that TDEP has done has led to this very moment, an album that takes it all to the very extreme. It is a frantic ride, and you will not be the same when it is over, but it is an extremely fun journey. Such a shame they had to end this early.

7. Dark Tranquillity - Atoma

This is the year when Dark Tranquility finally convinced me of their greatness. Yes, I do like the band, and believe that they have made some important albums in the past, but I was not in love with them. Well, I would not say that I love them now either, but it is not too far away. "Atoma" is a stunning album, with songs and melodies that is simply astonishing, and a Mikael Stanne who mixes his soft and harsh vocals with such finesse. Simply put, a wonderful album that blows away every other Gothenburg band out of the waters.

6. Fallujah - Dreamless

Man, talk about missing out on something. Fallujah has been one of the most innovative bands in recent years, and it took me to this year to truly discover them, making myself feel really ill for knowing that I missed out on this amazing music for so long. Well, Fallujah is not old per se, but "Dreamless" is a perfect testimony of what they are about, a technical death metal band that has the gift of taking out the beautiful from the roughest of edges. Jesus Christ, this is a beautiful album, almost hard to believe it at first.

5. Katatonia - The Fall of Hearts

Katatonia continues down their path on making their sound more and more gothic ambient, escaping their heavy roots completely. The end result for this stop is an incredibly beautiful album that is filled to the brim with high quality songs, all of them creating an album that must be listened from start to finish to make it justice. The tone and sound of the album is very easy to take in, but it needs multiple listens to fully understand it all. And just like I said in the review, it is a fall of hearts, but certainly not a fall from grace.

4. Sunburst - Fragments of Creation

Debut album of the year goes to this band from Greece, who takes a little bit of everything from the power metal history book. "Fragments of Creation" is an incredibly diverse record, with tons of exciting things in it, mostly coming from the blazing fingers of guitarist Gus Drax and his insane riffs. As said though, it is the diversity that makes "Fragments of Creation" such a magnificent effort, showing that the band has a lot of different talents at their disposal. Firewind better step up their game, or Sunburst will soon take the crown as kings of Greece.

3. Devin Townsend Project - Transcendence

You guys know how much I love Devin Townsend and his work, so it is no surprise that he once again rises into my top 20. Despite his impressive back catalog, I still believe that "Transcendence" is the best album by him since "Ocean Machine: Biomech". It is just so organic and so uplifting, and it shows a versatility that is simply incredible. While not being the most original album Devin has done, it got enough amazing stuff in it to make everyone smile. I also love that the rest of the project was more involved in the song writing process, making this album a true band effort. That Canadian bastard (and his friends) simply does not know how to disappoint you.

2. Haken - Affinity

To follow up such a magnificent album as "The Mountain" is a tall task in itself, but doing so with an album that is inspired by the 80's prog rock movement, and with a cover that even looks like a cassette tape, Haken truly blew me off my chair. "Affinity" is extremely enjoyable from start to finish, and it contains 9 great songs, from the hectic "The Endless Knot" and the uplifting "Initiate", to the massive mastodon (and official "Song of the year" winner) "The Architect". Yes, "Affinity" is a prog lover's wet dream, and it solidifies Haken's status as one of the biggest prog metal acts today. Not bad for an album that sounds like it is 30 years old.

1. Astronoid - Air

2016 have most of all been a year where we had to question ourselves what metal really is. There were so many bands that pushed the boundaries of our beloved genre, and no other band did that more so than the Boston band Astronoid. Their debut album "Air" is smooth as silk, even angelic at times, but the beats in it are still heavy, blasting through with ease. This album could easily be associated with tons of genres, like shoegaze, punk, metalcore, alternative, and progressive metal, but this is an album that does not need a genre identification, it is just as perfect as it is. Brett Boland, Daniel Schwartz, Casey Aylward, Matt St. Jean, and Mike DeMellia are all leading the evolution of metal, and it sounds brighter than ever. Thank you guys so much for making 2016 that much better, and may you have the best of luck in the future.

And those lucky wishes goes to all of you readers too. Thank you for visiting Forsaken At The Gates, may we see each other again in 2017 (hopefully with less death and misery).

Stay Metal!
Robert "Sharkruisher" Andersson

Monday, December 26, 2016

Best of 2016: Part 2, top 50 songs of the year

Every year, it is the same old story. I take on the challenge to pick my top 50 songs of the year, and it ends up with two empty Jack Daniels bottles, chocolate smeared all over my face, and the feeling of complete self hatred. Knowing this, why do I keep putting myself through this torment every year? Simple, to remind myself of all the great music that the previous year has offered us.

To go through all of the music I have listened to and like over the year is really soothing, a nostalgic peace to my soul. It is when it comes to cutting them down to only 50 songs and then rank them when my cool starts to wear off. But hey, it is still worth it, and I only have to do this once a year, so that is something.

This year's list is a lot like previous years. The top was not hard to chose at all, and most of them was long and epic songs that has stuck with me over the year. Only real rules here are one song per band, and only songs that are included in albums or EPs that were released this year (sorry Overkill). The list also includes some choices even I am genuinely surprised over, some that might even anger you all (I guess that you will hate me for number 50, 44, 34, 7, and possibly a lot of other ones too). So read at own risk, and feel free to leave your opinions and questions in the comment section below, or on Twitter (@ForsakenGates).

50. Amaranthe - Boomerang
It is weird, I know, but it keeps coming back, like some kind of weapon made by some Aboriginal tribe.

49. Sirenia - Dim Days of Dolor
There is always that one Sirenia song in an album that sticks with you. Needless to say, this is that song from the last album

48. In Flames - Through My Eyes
Through my ears, this is one catchy song, with a very interesting and weird verse riff.

47. Headspace - Road To Supremacy
It may be a discount Threshold, but it is still really good

46. Bloody Hammers - Stoke The Fire
A groovier song about witch burning is very hard to find

45. Fleshgod Apocalypse - And The Vulture Beholds
This is probably as symphonic as it can get without involving Mozart, and with a touch of metal, it is pure magic.

44. Lordi - Demonarchy
It beats the American democracy system, that is for sure.

43. Kvelertak - Nattesferd
There is nothing stopping this groovy nattesferd... wait, what the hell is a nattesferd anyway?

42. Astronoid - Tin Foil Hats
This is truly a spiritual song, and unlike real tin foil hats, it does not make you look crazy.

41. Killswitch Engage - The Great Deceit
One of the bigger surprises this year, KE being heavier than the average thrash metal band.

40. Bombus - Repeat Until Death
Don't mind if I do! That main riff is stuff that groovy dreams are made of.

39. Thrawsunblat - In Mist We Walk
These guys sure knows how to create epic and wild progressive death metal, as organic as the trees in your yard.

38. Anciients - Ibex Eye
One of the biggest rising stars search for their inner Tool, and delivers a grand strike.

37. Witherscape - The Examiner
Dan Swanö... Do I really need to say more?

36. Borknagar - Winter Thrice
A great emotional song that will give you the chills, so be sure to sit by a fire place so hypothermia doesn't catch you.

35. Volbeat - The Loa's Crossroad
With that "Seventh Son..." bass line, you simply cannot fail, even if you play Elvis metal.

34. Pain - Call Me
Joakim Brodén singing about prostitutes instead of war is extremely weird, and extremely fun. This song also has the best music video of this year, because Puppet Tägtgren is simply the best.

33. Katatonia - Passer
Could literally chose any song from "The Fall of Hearts", because it is so even. Ultimately though, it was the beauty of this song that spoke to me, and that opening helped out a lot too.

32. Mob Rules - Dykemaster's Tale
This tale is about some dykemaster, and it is a really nice speedy tale that might be one of the most epic and impressive creations we have ever seen from Mob Rules.

31. Evergrey - Passing Through
One song that did not pass me through was this one from Evergrey, a band I have not fully appreciated all the time. I really love the catchy groove the verse possesses, and the classic Evergrey emotions tops it off nicely.

30. The Algorithm - Pointers
A futuristic techno djent instrumental, hacking with ease into your head.

29. Anthrax - Breathing Lightning
An electrifying performance from one of the big 4 of Thrash, with some great riff and an amazing (but short) solo.

28. Sunburst - Out of The World
I think the name speaks for itself, it is simply a song that is not Earth bound.

27. Nemesea - Forever
That epic chorus and those choirs will most certainly stick with you all... forever

26. Meshuggah - Clockworks
There is no other band in the world that can make a song like this, without it ending up as a big, sloppy mess. Meshuggah is not like any other band, they work like a well oiled machinery that pulverizes boundaries and common sense.

25. Textures - Timeless
When the going goes technical, you know that I will be there and enjoy it. Textures delivers a beautiful strike, one that is not unique in any way, but still really satisfying. Yeah, that is it, this song is satisfying as fuck.

24. Dark Tranquility - Atoma
Choosing anything from "Atoma" is hard, but the title track just stuck with me, mostly because of that fantastic keyboard melody, but also for Stanne's brilliant performance, mixing his harsh and soft vocals with perfection. The whole sound image is just so striking, so fascinating, so beautiful.

23. Oceans of Slumber - Suffer The Last Bridge
Oceans of Slumber, lay that name to your memory, because I got a feeling we will hear more from them in the future. This song alone is a clear evidence of that, a magical, almost doomy and groovy progressive effort that sticks out from the crowd. So wonderful.

22. Fates Warning - The Ghosts of Home
Like the two last albums was not enough to declare the return of Fates Warning, they had to make an amazing mastodon song to shove it down our throats. These guys truly acts like prog legends, delivering a magnificent song that shifts and turns as it well pleases.

21. Epica - Divide And Conquer
Even if Epica was one of my major disappointments of this year, they still made sure to deliver at least one great song. "Divide And Conquer" is just what we want to hear from Epica, it is a grand epic that takes space, doing just like the name suggests. Man, that orchestra is just amazing in itself.

20. Allegaeon - All Hail Science
If you did not believe in science before you heard this song, then you might reconsider afterward. Allegaeon does what they do best, fast and technical death metal with some sparkle in the eye. Science, gotta love it.

19. Holy Grail - Black Lotus
Damn, there are a lot of great 10+ minute songs this year, and to think that one of them comes from Holy Grail... that is just insane. The last album was kind of mediocre, but this is an exhilarating ending to it. There is a lot of action put in here, and if it had not been for that dumb metal core breakdown ending, I might have declared it my favourite Holy Grail song to this date.

18. Fallujah - Dreamless
It is so hard to chose a single song from the latest Fallujah effort, but the title track is simply magical, a new emotion that words or sense cannot easily explain. The beauty of this song is blended perfectly with the pummeling drums and the heavy guitars towards the end, fusing it all to something truly special.

17. Artillery - When The Magic Is Gone
What is Artillery talking about here? I can clearly sense the magic in this smooth, 80's inspired rock melody. It is a hypnotizing rhythm that pulls you in, relaxing your body into a lumpy mess, taking away all of your worries. In an album that is filled with fast thrash candy, we have this little gem that changes things up just the right amount.

16. Megadeth - Fatal Illusion
"Dystopia" may not be the new "Endgame" that I hoped for, but it does have some great thrash in it. "Fatal Illusion" is vintage Megadeth at its finest, with some nice bass lines from Ellefson, and a nice synergy between Mustaine and newcomer Loureiro. That second half is just amazing, but it also leaves me with this question. WHY DO WE NOT GET MORE OF THAT?!?!?!

15. Alter Bridge - Show Me A Leader
Alter Bridge is truly hitting their stride right now, and the opening track from "The Last Hero" is quite possibly their most powerful outing yet. "Show Me A Leader" takes no prisoners, showing off every last bit of Tremonti's wild guitar skills and Kennedy's fantastic vocal range. If this song is leading the charge, then I know that I would be safe.

14. Amon Amarth feat. Doro Pesch - A Dream That Cannot Be
Amon Amarth singing about a love story, with Doro Pesch as the female lead? Now that is something I think no one expected or ever wished for, but it turns out to be a match made in heaven. It is a catchy and epic tune, and Doro is lovely as always, bringing out her inner Viking Amazon. Most certainly a better love story than Twilight.

13. Ihsahn - Celestial Violence
Ihsahn arguably put out one of the most diverse records of the year, and it all ends in a dramatic and grand epic in "Celestial Violence". It is one of the most emotional songs this year, and it strikes you through the heart multiple times with its pain and suffering. The guest appearance from Einar Solberg of Leprous enhances the experience even further.

12. Avantasia - Let The Storm Descend Upon You
Tobias Sammet really knows how to utilize his guests to their full potential, even when the songs are 12 minutes long. Together with Jorn Lande, Ronnie Atkins, and Robert Mason, "Let The Storm Descend Upon You" becomes one of the focal points of "Ghostlights", truly starting up the story that acts as a sequel to "The Mystery of Time". Simply incredible that none of the 12 minutes here are dull.

11. Testament - Brotherhood of The Snake
Testament is doing Testament things in the title track of their latest full length effort, and you cannot do anything else but to love it. Skolnick and Peterson shredding it out, Chuck Billy rambling in his unique and lovely way, and Gene Hoglan bashing that pigskin like it deserved every hit. Simply put, it is the sweetest of thrash candy we are being spoiled with here, a taste you want to get back to a lot of times.

10. Abbath - Fenrir Hunts
I do not know if it was the rage from his split with Immortal, or that he was just in the mood, but no matter what the cause was for Abbath's debut being so furious, I cannot stop loving it. Chosing a song from "Abbath" was not easy, so I just went with the one with the most fury in it, which is "Fenrir Hunts". This is just pure awesome black 'n' roll, faster than a Formula 1 car, and wilder than Bigfoot, Abbath unleashes an unstoppable monster that is out to destroy everything. Brutal.

9. Subliminal Fear - Evilution
This band made a huge evolution to their sound in "Escape From Leviathan", and it paid off real good. "Evilution" is a fast and thrilling ride that takes you through many highs and lows. It is an exciting song that shows off just how good cyber metal can truly be. I sure hope that the band continues down this path, because if this song is any indication at all, they might have found something really good here.

8. Devin Townsend Project - Failure
Do not get fooled by its name, "Failure" is as far from one that you could go. It is one of the more unique songs off the album "Transcendence", relying on its heavy riffing, while Devin delivers one of his most fragile vocal efforts in recent times, creating an atmosphere that is unlike anything else. And to top it off, we got something that is quite rare for the Canadian, a guitar solo that takes one of the bigger roles, and is not just a side step from the main path. A clear win in my books.

7. Ghost - Square Hammer
The Ghost hype train does not seem to have a break, because they keep delivering great stuff in an inhuman pace (well, they are ghouls after all...). "Square Hammer" is arguably their grooviest song up to date, but it is still Ghost to the core, having that demonic aura that they have presented since they started. It is a hell of a farewell anthem, or at least I think so, from the third Papa Emeritus.

6. Be'Lakor - Withering Strands
This song probably wins the award for "most beautiful guitar work" for this year, because the melodies in this songs are so god damn perfect. They flow seamlessly to one another, twining together an amazing song that clocks in at just under 11 minutes. The really heavy part towards the end might be off putting at first, but it works as an effective tempo changer, giving the song that final edge that sets it towards the top of the charts.

5. Gojira - Silvera
It is kind of funny that "Magma" is the most experimental Gojira album thus far, and the best song out of it is the one that looks back to the past the most. "Silvera" has the crunchy, polyrhythmic riffs that we all know and love from the band, and together with an epic chorus, it might change your view on how we can bring change to the world. Vintage Gojira at its absolute best.

4. DGM - The Secret Pt. 1
DGM is a better Dream Theater than Dream Theater these days, and this opening master piece from "The Passage" just confirms it. It is just how you want a progressive metal song to sound, it is diverse, long, and filled with so many sparkling details that it takes a lot of listens to even catch half of it. The second part of this song is nice too, but the first part is just so magical, a masterpiece indeed.

3. Cloudscape - In Silence We Scream
This song did not really strike me that much at first, I just saw it as a really nice ending to a very uneven album. But as time went by, I kept coming back to it, loving it more and more. The slow beginning might have been the reason to this, but it does set the mood nicely, building up the emotions further and further into the song. But it is the climax that is simply the best thing about this song, a long solo followed by what I think is the absolute best riff melody of all year. They could play that alone, and I would still love this song and never get tired of it.

2. Mechina - Starscape
There is always that one song in every new Mechina album that just blows me away and stays with me during the entire year. "Progenitor" does not disappoint, delivering "Starscape", a beautiful song that might be the band's most memorable one. It also is one of the nicest lyrics the bands have created, not only going well together with the album's concept, but also as to what we are doing to this planet as well. The words of the bridge part will stick with me forever.

1. Haken - The Architect
I have stated my love for this song so much, and even after listening to it consistently since "Affinity" was released in spring, I still love this song as much as I heard it the first time. This 15 minute monstrosity is quite possibly the greatest progressive metal song in the last decade, bringing together so many elements of both the genre, and the band's musicality. We have the heavy riffs, the soaring vocals, the sing along friendly chorus, a huge solo part that is exciting from start to finish, and a guest appearance from Leprous' Einar Solberg (his second on this list!). And like that was not enough, we have an ultra epic ending that will not only give you goosebumps, but maybe even an angelic out of body experience.

If you are curious to what all these songs sounds like, then look no further, I have gathered them all in one single Spotify playlist, which you can find just below this very text.

I'll see you all for the final part of the "best of 2016", and remember to stay metal!
Robert "Sharkruisher" Andersson

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Best of 2016: Part 1, 2016 in review and honorable mentions

Man... what a fucking year.

In more ways than I could ever imagine, 2016 became one of the wildest rides I have ever experienced. Close to everything that could go wrong did, and even more to that. It has been very hard to endure it all, but we have finally reached the end of this year, now ready to look back at all this craziness that has happened. And it all started, with a little golden statue that broke the Internet.

Leo finally did it

After several nominations, and becoming a meme that grew to epic proportions, Leonardo DiCaprio finally won his Oscar. While I cannot say that he do not deserve it (he does), I am not sure if it was right to give it to him for his performance in "The Revenant". Do not get me wrong, he is awesome in this movie, but he has had so many more performances over the years that is even better. Just to name a few, we got "The Wolf of Wall Street", "The Departed", "Catch Me If You Can", "Blood Diamond" and "The Aviator". To say that it is a crime that he has not gotten that Oscar sooner is an understatement. And hey, no more "Leo has not won that fucking Oscar" memes, which is something.

And if you all wonder, my personal favourite movie from this year is, not surprisingly, "Deadpool". I love the character, and Ryan Reynolds is simply perfect for the role. Yeah, the plot is far from the strongest, but the humour, action and self awareness more than makes up for it. Should be noted though, I have not seen "Arrival" yet, which has gotten tons of great reviews. I have high hopes for it.

2016, the serial killer

Jesus Christ, this year has taken away tons of famous stars and idols, it is close to ridiculous. We in the metal world have been fairly saved from this plague, but we were not without our own casualties. Guys like Nick Menza (ex-Megadeth), Jimmy Bain (Rainbow, Dio), Adam Sagan (ex-Circle II Circle) and James Woolley (Nine Inch Nails) all died this year, and will all be missed.

But we saw several other major deaths from other mediums. The most notable ones happened in the beginning, with the passing of both Prince and David Bowie. While I personally have little to no real connection to them (being too young and all), I still have tremendous respect for them, and for the music they created. Both of them were incredibly unique in their approach, and they always pushed themselves to create something we have never heard, or seen, before. Just the fact that Prince used a still photo from a Dave Chappelle sketch in which he act as Prince for one of his singles is just amazing (and it also helps that the sketch itself is extremely hilarious).

Those two were not alone though. We also lost Muhammad Ali, Alan Rickman, Leonard Cohen, Arnold Palmer and Gordie Howe this year, and there are probably several others that I forgot. It is sad and all, but what is even sadder is that somehow, a GOD DAMN GORILLA is more remembered than any of these celebrities (although, most of these "mourners" just want to show their dick, so I do not take them all too seriously).

'Murica is (maybe) screwed

Donald Trump... President Donald Trump... still feels weird saying that.

We are definitely not gonna go and assume in advance that Trump will be the trigger to World War III, because technically, he has not done anything yet. Yes, his whole candidacy was one big controversy after another, from recreating the Great Wall of China, to grabbing pussies, but ultimately, it is his real decisions that will truly show if he is any good. Hell, Politicians lie all the time, so why should Trump be any different? Oh right... he is not a politician... he is a business man.

Still, it was a choice between AIDS and Ebola for Americans, as I think Hillary would not be that much better. Sure, she has more experience, but can we really trust her? I definitely feel sorry for all of you Yanks, and secretly, I rooted for Bernie Sanders, because he seems genuinely nice, like a sweet grand father that takes care of you and wants what is best for you.

Oh well, these next 4 years will be a hell of a lot interesting, that is for sure.

The resurgence of my childhood

To think that we would still talk about Pokemon in 2016, and that it is hotter than ever, is honestly baffling to me. I was among those who was in just the right age when those weird creatures first emerged into the scene, and just like everyone else at the time, I was hooked. I made my parents buy cards and figurines, and we would later battle and trade with them in the school yard (well, battle as in throwing the cards to a wall, and the one closest to the wall would win, not the actual card game battling). And then we had the video games and the anime. Oh my god the video games and the anime! Good times indeed.

Fast forward to today, and I still play with Pokemon, but on my smart phone now. Pokemon GO was an instant hit, and it struck my heart. Yeah, it has some flaws, and it is not completely accurate to how it works in the games/show, but it is a good way to get my ass off my chair and get some fresh air. It definitely beats Candy Crush 7 days a week.

It is simply amazing that these little fictional animals has stayed relevant for so many years, and that it keeps drawing in newer generations. Hell, my little sisters are drawn to the craze now too, and every time I get home, they jump on me and ask if I have caught any new ones. Pokemon, bringing generations together since 1996.

At least we got some great music

Despite all the negativity that has plagued 2016, I will look back to this year with memories of some great music. Metal has had a great year, with tons of great releases across all the genres. Yeah, it is like this close to every year, but this year was literally loaded with great albums, and they never seemed to end. My yearly top 20 was hard to make this year, forcing me to cut some albums that would have easily made it into last couple of year's lists. Let us analyze some of those who did not make it.

Honorable mentions

Abbath - S/T
The first solo record of the black metal legend is a fun one, a fast joy ride through blast beats and pitch black riffs. It is black and roll at its finest.

Amon Amarth - Jomsviking
For a first try at a concept record, Amon Amarth made a valiant effort. It is far from their best album, but it has its moments of brilliance, showing once again that these vikings are as ravenous as ever.

Anciients - Voice of The Void
An up and coming band that is only at the beginning of their journey, Anciients are getting some serious momentum with the release of "Voice of The Void". A fantastic record, showing metal has a bright future.

Dream Theater - The Astonishing
Yes, this album is way too long, and the songs are not too memorable, but I truly admire Dream Theater for pushing themselves, creating one of the meatiest concept records I have ever heard. Still think it would have been better as a play though.

Fates Warning - Theories of Flight
Their last album, "Darkness In A Different Light", was a return to form, but "Theories of Flight" takes it even one step further, showing off some magnificent progressive metal. That end song "The Ghosts of Home" is truly something special.

Flotsam And Jetsam - S/T
One of the biggest surprises this year, F&J delivered a really fun thrash record, one that is as far away from the albums they have done in recent years. Nice to see them back at their right element.

Ihsahn - Arktis.
The former Emperor member has created one of the most unique albums this year, and that is saying something. From the dark black metal roots, to the more ambient melodies, "Arktis." is for sure one of the most versatile records of this year, showing off every bit of Ihsahn's vast musicianship.

Mechina - Progenitor
You guys know that I love Mechina, so I do not think I need to say much more about them. After all, it will not be long until their next album shows up.

Metallica - Hardwired... To Self-Destruct
It did not suck! Was not great either, but anything but a "St. Anger 2.0" is a win in my book.

Oceans of Slumber - Winter
"Winter" is probably one of the smoothest records of this year, blending silky smooth riffs with a Cammie Gilbert that works her way through the corners with her wonderful voice. By no means the heaviest album you will ever hear, "Winter" is still one that everyone can enjoy.

Source - Return To Nothing
While waiting for Tool to stop procrastinating, Source works as a sweet substitute. This debut album has some rough edges here and there, but is overall a really enjoyable effort that gives us hope about the future for this band.

Textures - Phenotype

I am always a sucker for technical, ethereal, progressive metal, and Textures does it really damn good. "Phenotype" is truly a beautiful record that takes you away to a different place, a better place.

Vektor - Terminal Redux
Most will probably put this in their lists, but I am still not fully convinced. It is a great record, that is for sure, but it is so much to take in here, making it a chore from time to time. And I still cannot stand the singer, his style is not gentle on my ears. Nonetheless, it would be unfair of me if I did not put this record among my honorable mentions.

So that is part 1 done. Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3 in the coming days

Stay metal!
Robert "Sharkruisher" Andersson

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Slayer - Divine Intervention (1994)

Whenever a band lose a founding member, or a member that has been with the band for a long time, there is surely going to be changes not only in the line-up, but in the chemistry as well. While it seems like the separation between Dave Lombardo and the rest of Slayer went without any particular hick ups, the first album without him was a clear showing that Slayer had been shaken up to its core.

It is obvious from the beginning that "Divine Intervention" is not a future classic, because the production here is really gritty (and not the good kind). I guess the band and Rick Rubin wanted to create the same sound that they got from "Reign In Blood", but they over thought their design here, spending so much time to perfect it that it just becomes stale. There is no heart behind this production, and it hurts the album a lot.

Deep inside though, it is the classic Slayer that we get treated with. It is evil thrash with rabid riffs and demonic vocals. Still, there is something missing, something vital. I really cannot put my finger on it, but there is something (besides the sub par production) that just makes "Divine Intervention"... mediocre. The band tries their best, pummeling on and on with all their might, but they just cannot seem to get past the wall they try to break.

Some songs does punch a hole or two though, and it makes the album much more bearable than it would have otherwise been. "Dittohead" is one of the most aggressive pieces I have heard from the band, blazing through every part of their register in just over 2 and a half minutes. "SS-3" is a nice song about the German Schutzstaffel, and is also one of few songs where Tom Araya does not sound like he has a sandbox down his throat (he truly sounds hideous in several songs). Finally, the opener "Killing Fields" have some nice bite to it, while "Serenity In Murder" and the title track tries to recapture what the band did in "Seasons In The Abyss", and does so fairly successfully.

Other than those songs, "Divine Intervention" is just an album filled with bland songs that simply does not hold up. It is just one long shoulder shrug after another, and just like I said before, I cannot really put my finger on why it is so.The aggression is there, the fire too, and the lyrics are nice as well, depicting the evil that we see almost every day on the news. Could it really be that the production takes away so much? Nah, it might be more that it just does not match the quality that we are used to hear from the band, not in the musical structures or the memorability factor. It just does not stay put in your mind for any prolonged time.

"Divine Intervention" is a hard album to get your head around. It is still Slayer, and it is aggressive and all, but the  quality is just not there. There is very little in here that stands the test of time, and while it might be a decent album to just mindlessly listen to time and again, it is still far inferior to all of the other Slayer albums that I have covered thus far. Not a bad record per se, but very far from a brilliant one.

Songs worthy of recognition: Dittohead, Killing Fields, Serenity In Murder

Rating: 6/10 Mind Controls

More reviews of Slayer
Show No Mercy
Hell Awaits
Reign In Blood
South of Heaven
Seasons In The Abyss

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Freedom Call - Master of Light (2016)

There is no question that power metal is a stand out genre in the ever growing metal tree, because it is close to the only one that genuinely sounds joyful, rarely using any darkness at all. There is no other band that shows this better than Freedom Call, the happiest metal band in the universe. Whenever I feel down or sad, I just put on this band, and their angelic anthems instantly brings a smile to my face. It never fails.

"Master of Light" follows on the same tracks as its predecessors. It is fast, powerful, epic, and cheesy, exactly what you would expect, and want, from a new Freedom Call record. The Germans certainly does not disappoint, this album will get your head banging and force your frown to turn upside down, even if you like it or not. Seriously, how can you not smile to this? It is like telling a kitten that it is ugly, it is just impossible (unless it is a hairless cat, then it is a little bit easier).

But what is it that makes Freedom Call so different from other power metal bands? What is it that makes them this happy pill? Personally, I think it is a combination of two things. The first one is the choruses, that are not only really catchy, but the band often uses choirs to amp up the epicness even further, and it works so god damn well. The other part of this recipe of happiness is the band's passion. You can truly feel that the band love what they are doing, giving 110% in every millisecond of this record. That passion is highly infectious, and a big reason to the drive of the record.

With that said, there is one thing that makes me a little bummed out over "Master of Light", and that is that it is nothing special. The band has done this before, showing little to no evolution in neither music nor lyrics. It is quite obvious that the band is comfortable in their sound, and that they have no intentions on changing it any time soon, but write some different lyrics at least, just do something to stir the pot up.

The monotony is annoying, but there are still several songs in here that stands really strong, showing the band's full potential. All you Liverpool fans will love "A World Beyond", where singer Chris Bay states that we never have to walk alone in a really inspirational way. We also have "Ghost Ballet", where the loud keyboards intertwine with some really heavy guitar riffs, creating a play that would make "The Swan Lake" look ugly. "Metal Is For Everyone" goes without saying that it is a metal anthem that should be sung for the ages, it is a potential fan favourite just for the title itself. And while I personally do not like it, "High Up" ends the album with one of the cheesiest vocal melodies I have heard in a long time. Some of you cheese lovers might appreciate it.

Despite looking like a discount Manowar album, "Master of Light" is Freedom Call through and through. It is happy metal at its best, energetic stuff that has the power to power entire cities for weeks. Yeah, it is not much different from any other record the band has done, but it gets the job done well. It is simple and epic power metal that might not stick in your mind for all too long, but for the moment, it is a happy pill with a 100% success rate. If you excuse me, I need to take my recommended daily dose now.

Songs worthy of recognition: A World Beyond, Metal Is For Everyone, Ghost Ballet

Rating: 7/10 Masters of Light

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Oddland - Origin (2016)

The life of a band is not a dance on roses all of the time, just take the Finnish progressive metal band Oddland as an example. Formed in 2002, the band have won several different music contests over the years, but they started the band just for fun, not with any intentions of doing this more than a hobby. Somewhere along the way though, the band got more serious, involving more metal into their progressive rock, eventually landing a deal with Century Media in 2010. Now, the band has evolved into one of the most interesting progressive metal bands in recent years.

"Origin" is the band's second effort, and it is just as mysterious and intriguing as you would expect from the band. The melodies are perfectly cooperating with the more heavy beats, creating a captivating sound that twirls around you in a calm whirlwind. It would be just too easy to call this music... odd, but it does describe it fairly well, even if it does not skew all too much from the typical progressive formula.

It is kind of hard to compare this band to other bands, because their sound has a little mix of everything, fusing into something that you have not heard before. The singer Sakari Ojanen does have some similarities to both Mikael Åkerfeldt and Daniel Gildenlöw, but he has a darker tone that works extremely well with the sound, hitting the right buttons both here and there. As for the sound, it got some Tool, some Orphaned Land, some Opeth, and some Persefone, all blended into a dark and grand production that gives the sound great power. But as stated before, even if Oddland borrows influences from several other bands, it is not really fair to compare it to any of them, because they stand on their own platform.

Most of the exciting stuff of this album can be found on the first three songs. The opener "Esotericism" has a really heavy djent opening, not all that far from Mesuggah, but with more epic and clean vocals. The rest of the song is grand, taking up a lot of space in its three and a half minute run time. "Thanatos" is much calmer in its approach, but that changes around the half way point when the band does this small part where it feels like hell is raining down. The rest of the journey is chaotic, yet controlled in an interesting way. "Penumbra" ends the tri-fecta, and it is way more straight forward, where Sakari delivers some emotional vocals, and he is backed up with some neat guitar work from himself and Jussi Poikonen.

Those songs dominates the record, because the rest of "Origin" is good, close to great, but not very memorable. All songs have flashes of brilliance in them, whether it be a melody line, chorus, or a beat, Oddland knows how to engage the listener, pushing the right buttons. However, take out the songs individually, and they do not have the strength to hold up on their own. The epic "Faraway" may be the only exception to this rule, staying at the back half of the album and generating a great mood that is dark and scary, yet captivating. Ultimately, all of the songs work together, creating a cohesive and enjoyable album, but I would have liked more songs that I could just turn on without listening to "Origin" in full.

It is obvious that Oddland still has some way to go before they can go up against the big guns of the progressive metal scene, but they are heading on the right direction. "Origin" is a really nice sophomore effort that has its own cool sound, a dark sound that stands out strong. It still feels unpolished, but this is definitely a release that the progressive metal lover would not want to miss. It would not surprise me one bit if the next album the band releases ends up as a future classic.

Songs worthy of recognition: Esotericism, Thanatos, Faraway

Rating: 7/10 Skylines

Friday, November 25, 2016

Slayer - Seasons In The Abyss (1990)

With the release of "Seasons In The Abyss", Slayer went back in its development, but possibly for the better. The mid-tempo songs that underlined "South of Heaven" were still there, but it was broken up more with what we saw from "Reign In Blood", which of course meant fast and technical riffing, plus an aggressive persona that is unstoppable. In other words, a blend of the two different sides that we have seen from the band, fused into one mouth watering piece of thrash candy.

One thing that is new though is that "Seasons In The Abyss" is a seamless album, transitioning between tracks very smoothly. This of course makes the album a lot easier to listen to in its entirety, but the individual songs do not suffer from this. Every song starts and ends in a natural way, and that just shows what a good connection the band had with Rick Rubin, even if he used the polisher a little too hard here.

The album opens with a killer song, and one of the band's all time classics. "War Ensemble" is just how you would want a Slayer song to be. It is fast, technical, fierce, and has a pair of amazing solos. King and Hanneman delivers big time, putting out some sinister riffs that just crushes your skull. Let us also not forget that breakdown that leads to a classic Araya scream. It may not build as much tension as the opening to "Raining Blood", but it makes sure that the solo hits you hard.

While the album does not reach those kinds of speeds or thrills again (except in "Hallowed Point" were the pedal is to the metal from start to finish), it makes sure to stay fresh and strong throughout its run time. "Spirit In Black" has a smooth speed that just suits well, eventually transforming to that classic Slayer thrash that we all know and love. "Dead Skin Mask" shows off more of the mellow side of the band, a slow tempo song that creates a disturbing mood. It is what the band tried to create on "South of Heaven", but was not able to. Then we also have "Temptation" that uses an interesting technique that I like to call "The Double Araya". Simply put, Araya sings in harmony, using two separate vocal tracks to give the illusion that the band cloned him and created a singing two headed monster. Have to admit, that would be sweet if it was possible.

While my inner Slayer fan is usually attracted to the faster stuff, the slower title track strikes as my favourite track of the record. "Seasons In The Abyss" has a mysterious doom like start, not too far from what Black Sabbath did in their early years, building the tension up in a horrifying way. The tempo suddenly ramps up, transforming into a charging stead fast beat that is both bone chilling and hair rising. To top it off, we get yet another amazing solo that just fits so god damn perfectly in there. If your head is not rocking back and forth to this song, then maybe you should go look for a band that is more suitable to you, like One Direction.

This album also marks the last time we will hear from drummer Dave Lombardo (at least until he returns to the band in 2001), and while his style is perfect for the band, it is very rarely I think "damn, I love the drums on this track". It is probably because Slayer is so riff driven, but it still needs someone to bring some impact into the songs, and Dave does so nicely. No matter what, it is always a bummer when an original member decides to leave, putting a dent in the band chemistry that is not easy to get rid of.

Slayer had all the ingredients to cook up a tasty thrash meal, mixing their two latest recipes into one. The end result is a very diverse record that takes the best parts out of their two styles, creating a symbiosis that is so beautiful to hear. This album is the successor to "Reign In Blood" that everybody wanted, and that "South of Heaven" could never be. A great album that has just the right seasoning for success.

Songs worthy of recognition: Seasons In The Abyss, War Ensemble, Dead Skin Mask, Hallowed Point

Rating: 9/10 Temptations

More reviews of Slayer
Show No Mercy
Hell Awaits
Reign In Blood
South of Heaven

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Metallica - Hardwired... To Self-Destruct (2016)

The day that never comes is finally here. After 8 extremely long years, the thrash legends of Metallica finally released their tenth full length album "Hardwired... To Self-Destruct". So what has the band been doing all of these years? Well, after releasing "Death Magnetic", the band has started their own record label called Blackened Records, started a short lived festival called Orion Music + More, made a full length movie called "Through The Never", made a collaboration with Lou Reed that no one expected (or wanted for that matter). They played countless of tours and shows, including one in Antarctica, and they have been bragging and teasing us about how many ideas they have had for this album (even losing about 250 riffs along the way), which is also why this album is 77 minutes long and spans up to 2 CDs (or 3 LPs).

My expectations for this record were, not surprisingly, big, for several reason. The first reason is that I highly enjoyed "Death Magnetic", and its mix of modern metal and old school thrash. It was a fresh breath of air that rejuvenated the band in a way I did not see coming. Second, the band have had a long time to perfect this album, and the longer you have to wait for new music, the higher the fall could be if it does not kick ass. Third reason is an obvious one, it is Metallica we are talking about, one of the most important metal bands in history. No matter if you love them or hate them, your eyes and ears will be on them when they release new music. Okay, enough rambling, let us talk "Hardwired... To Self-Destruct".

Before the last couple of days before this album's release, the band had given us three tastes of the album already, and all three songs is found on the first half of the first record. The title track "Hardwired" opens things up, and this is as thrash as you can almost get. It is fast, have tons of cool riffs, and an in your face attitude that many thought Metallica had lost over the years. It is also a very short song, and it works in favour for the band, giving the album a kick start that we have not heard since "Blackened". Unfortunately, this is the only short song of the album, with the remaining 11 songs spanning between 6-8 minutes, so it does not represent the album very well. The other pre-tastes do though. Both "Atlas, Rise" and "Moth Into Flame" borrows elements from the predecessor "Death Magnetic", showcasing some incredibly fun guitar work and arena friendly choruses. Hell, the chorus to "Moth Into Flame" is one of the most melodic I have heard from the band, and Hetfield kills it so god damn well. A very impressive start from the band.

After that though, the album starts to lose its way, trying out several different angles and sounds that just ends up feeling more random than well thought out. "Dream No More" tries to act like it is the next "Sad But True", with some inspiration from the "Necronomicon", but the way Hetfield sings this is so god damn weird. It sounds more like Zakk Wylde, without the guitar wanking. "Confusion" is... well... confusing... and sluggish. Then we have "Here Comes Revenge" and "Am I Savage?", both very forgettable songs that does not stick out in any way.

The song that makes me rage the most though is "ManUNkind", not only because the title is stupid as hell, but simply because this song makes no sense what so ever. It got some groovy riffs here that are nice and all, and Trujillo gets some moments to shine here, like the intro, but it is a very unappealing song overall. The chorus is extremely boring, the overall sound is very monotonous, and it just does not fit the record at all. It has some Mercyful Fate mentality in it (which explains the music video, which is just footage from some black metal concert), but it is as demonic as me. In other words, not at all.

And that is probably the main problem with "Hardwired... To Self-Destruct", that it just does not seem to have any direction at all. The album has a little of everything that Metallica has presented us with over the years, some "Kill 'em All", some "Black Album", and, believe it or not, some "St. Anger". The roots are still planted in "Death Magnetic", but all these new angles just makes the album confused, missing a clear cut personality. And it does not help the fact that several songs just goes on for too long. Even if I am not bothered with the length, I know a lot of people will get annoyed by it (because that was the main complaint with "Death Magnetic").

Fortunately, there is enough brilliance here to make the album enjoyable. I have already mentioned the first three songs that was released as great material, but I also want to mention "Halo On Fire", which is a fantastic semi-ballad that goes in the same spirit as "Fade To Black" and "The Unforgiven", mixing some great guitar work with swell emotions, and Hetfield is once again utilizing his voice in a fantastic way. I also like the Lemmy tribute in "Murder One", where the band makes several references to famous Motörhead songs, and the final song "Spit Out The Bone" ends the album in the same way it started, with fast, rifftastic thrash (or thrashified skate punk if we are picky). Such a shame that we do not get to hear more of this in this record, because this is Metallica at their best, and I am not saying this to act like a "old school" Metallica fan, I say this because they show the most fire and passion in these songs, bringing out their youthful spirit.

So let us sum it all up. "Hardwired... To Self-Destruct" could have absolutely been better if the band had tightened up things a bit, by either cutting some songs or made them shorter, and the classic Metallica problems are still there (production that is far from perfect and Lars' drumming), but the album is still good. It has a fire that burns strong, and the band is showing a versatility that they have not shown since "The Black Album", and some songs here are really strong. The inconsistencies does force me to put this album below "Death Magnetic" in terms of overall quality, but there is enough good stuff here for the common Metallica fan here to enjoy. So even if it may be a confusing mess (just like the cover art), it is still an entertaining mess. Maybe not worth 8 years of waiting, but it is at least far from shit.

Songs worthy of recognition: Halo On Fire, Hardwired, "Atlas, Rise!", Moth Into Flame

Rating: 7/10 Savages

More reviews of Metallica
Kill 'em All
Ride The Lightning
Master of Puppets
...And Justice For All
St. Anger
Death Magnetic

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Thomas Giles - Velcro Kid (2016)

Well, this was unexpected. I did not anticipate a new solo release from Between The Buried And Me singer Thomas Giles Rogers this soon, but what is even more surprising is that "Velcro Kid" is a very different album from "Modern Noise". That album was pretty straight forward, showing off Thomas' less progressive side. Here though... I am not really sure where he went with this.

"Velcro Kid" is most certainly not a metal album. Instead, we get to experience some atmospheric electronic music that wants to create a full picture of the album. Thomas Giles takes his opportunity to expand his writing to more unknown territories, making sure that no one can connect this to his main band. This also means that fans of BTBAM might not enjoy this record at all, but I believe that every fan should give it a fair chance, even if it is a big step out of ones comfort zone.

The best real comparison to "Velcro Kid" I can do is the more ambient releases of Devin Townsend, because even if it does not sound anything like "Devlab", "The Hummer", or "Ghost", it is an album that does not have a lot of structure, is very calm, and is far, far away from what we are used to hear from Thomas. Speaking of Devin, he does make a guest appearance on the track "Gazer", and he uses his smooth silent voice to give this ethereal track even more ethereality (is that even a word?). Every time the Dev appears, greatness happens. Another guest is Jake Troth, whom I have never heard of before, and while he does add his touch to the song "Devotion", it is more than likely that I will not look more into that guy's career (mostly because he makes pop music... yep).

The whole sound is very soothing and relaxing, but there is very little in here that sticks with you in an instant. The preaching propaganda in "Strangers In A Paranoid Mind" certainly breaks up the album in a neat way, making it easy to remember, but the album overall is kind of a big blob. It is all the same theme, same tempo, and since the song transitions are smooth as silk, it makes it harder to notice where they start and end. At the same time though, it acts like a strength, making the album feel unified, well welded into a solid structure that will not crumble.

If I had to choose a favourite, I would go with "Slow Gold Becoming", not because it skews off an awful lot from the rest of the material, but because the subtle things in this track are simply exquisite. The tingling keys that taps on the music like light rain, Thomas' soft vocals, and the sporadic drum pattern, they all help in making this song really cool. Other sweet highlights are the before mentioned "Strangers In A Paranoid Mind, the opener "Immersion Highway", and the symphonic "Future of The Year".

In the end though, the question is if "Velcro Kid" is an enjoyable album, and I would say that it is. While it may not have the strong songs like "Modern Noise" had, it instead impress with solid performance and a nice sound that works nicely for those who just wants to wind down for a moment from the hectic life that we all live. The lack of metal is of course one point that might make the most of you to ignore this album, and I totally get that, but give it a fair chance instead of dismissing it instantly. After all, Thomas Giles made a lot of effort to get out of his comfort zone, so doing the same is the least you can do.

Songs worthy of recognition: Slow Gold Becoming, Immersion Highway, Strangers In A Paranoid Mind

Rating: 6,5/10 Gazers

More reviews of Thomas Giles
Modern Noise

Monday, November 14, 2016

In Flames - Battles (2016)

In Flames' transformation from being one of the pioneers in the Swedish melodic death metal scene to a more mainstream metal band is more or less complete now with the release of "Battles", the Swede's 12th studio effort. Now, why was it not already complete? Because they have shown some of their roots in their previous efforts. Maybe not to a great extent, but enough to recognize the band and its past. The last two albums, "Songs of A Playground Fading" and "Siren Charms", may differ massively in pure quality, but both have some small grains of the old In Flames in them. "Battles" does not.

Even without the hints of death metal, "Battles" is not pure trash, a album that should be instantly thrown away as a eye (and ear) sore. Sure, it is not the best side I have seen from the band, but they have created a solid entity that follows the red line with ease. Most of the focus here are on the choruses, where all of them being really catchy without being annoying. Just take the first single "The End" for example, a epic chorus that has been stuck in my mind ever since the first time I heard it. It even have a children's choir (something the band uses a couple more times in the album) that oddly fits, but it is not something I would want to see as a common thing in the band's sound.

While the album excels in its choruses, it fails miserably in what might be the most important thing in In Flames' sound, the twin guitars. The production is really flat, giving you the illusion that the band only utilize one guitarist, which ultimately makes the music feel empty. The only time where the guitars actually sounds good is in the solos, and the solos are great as always (thank god), but it is not enough. I wanna hear Björn Gelotte and Niklas Engelin's crunchy and melodic riffs, but "Battles" won't allow me.

I also get the feeling that the setting in which this album was recorded (Hollywood, California) had some influence to its sound. No, none of the songs in "Battles" is straight up film music, but it is a more glamorous sound picture that the band is presenting us. It is something that will divide the fan base even further than before, which is kind of an amazing feat since it is already divided quite a bit.

Even with this softer sound, In Flames made sure to pack "Battles" with several killer songs, with great melody and strong punches. Songs like "Save Me", "In My Room", and "Trough My Eyes" is straight up knock out punches that will leave bruises on your skin, remembering what happened when you encountered them the first time. "Through My Eyes" especially stands out by being the heaviest song, using a very tough attitude, some very groovy riffs, and another ultra epic chorus where Anders Fridén actually delivers some stellar clean(ish) vocals, an already proven weakness for the front man. Another stand out is "Wallflower", a more progressive song that is the longest of the record (just over seven minutes). There is a lot of instrumental bits here and a very calm mood that is not like the band at all, but it works really well, ending up as one of my favourites from this album.

But then we have the duds that should not be here at all, and they are close to making me mad (not in a "Siren Charms" level though). "Here Until Forever" is some weird metal core crap that I associate more with Bring Me The Horizon, Bullet For My Valentine, or any other similar band. It just does not suit the band well at all, and especially not Anders. No other song is as bad as "Here Until Forever", but "Like Sand", "Before I Fall" and "Drained" are just boring, and the over use of the children's choir in "The Truth" is very close to cringe worthy. Yeah, "Battles" have more good sides than bad, but it is still obvious that this is far from the best album the band has made.

Despite the poor production, the softer sound, and slight quality inconsistencies, "Battles" is actually not that bad of an album. The melodies are there, and so are the choruses, carrying the album towards the finish line in determined fashion. I might consider myself as one of the more stubborn In Flames fans out there, because while this albums shows so many flaws, it still has enough resonance in me to give me my much needed kick out of it. For me, "Battles" is an okay album, but I am sure that most of you will at the very least dislike it, especially if you do not like the modern version of the band. Still, this is a better and much stable album than "Siren Charms" will ever be, so give it a chance if you dare, do not be afraid to take up the battle that this album brings.

Songs worthy of recognition: Through My Eyes, The End, Wallflower

Rating: 6/10 Truths

More reviews of In Flames
Siren Charms
I, The Mask

Friday, November 11, 2016

Slayer - South of Heaven (1988)

With the success that Slayer has gotten over their first albums, bringing a fast and demonic attitude to the growing thrash genre, many were possibly surprised when they listened to "South of Heaven". Unlike its brethren, this album is notably slower and not as heavy, which is actually a intended move by the band. Jeff Hannemann himself has said that the band knew they would not be able to top the predecessor "Reign In Blood", so they wanted to try something different, change up the pace of the band's career. An odd move indeed, but a successful one none the less.

Because while "South of Heaven" may not have the same anger and fury as "Reign In Blood", it still has enough fire power within to make the listener bang its head relentlessly. With songs like "Ghosts of War" and "Silent Scream", you can't really go wrong, it is classic Slayer in its best kind of form. Pure thrashing madness.

The rest of the songs though are kind of hard to melt down, mostly because we are not used of hearing Slayer playing like this. The beats are slow and moody, and Tom Araya is rarely screaming, toning down his voice by a lot. It is a lot to take in for the fans of the band, and it even might act as a divider, but there is no doubt that this is a Slayer record, a different one. The title track is evidence enough of that, being just as evil as you want the band to be.

My main concern over the album is the guitars, mostly because there seem to be no energy to them. We get some good riffs here and there, and some cool solos as well, but Hannemann and King is not delivering their A game here. It is not that I think that they cannot slow things down, I just think they did not put their hearts out here, not committing to the music fully. The same could be stated about Araya, but I think it is more that his vocals just do not fit in here properly. Simply put, he held back a little too much here, should have loosened up a bit.

In fact, the only one that seems to be fully on point in this record is Lombardo and his drum beats, but that could be a mirage since the drum track is pretty high in the mix. Maybe it was a good choice because it gives these slower songs some more impact, without drowning the guitars all too much. Songs like "Mandatory Suicide" and "Live Undead" take full advantage of this production, sounding a lot fresher than what they might have been with quieter drums. Still though, I do not think that is the make or break point of the album, it is just there as a nice added touch.

Speaking of nicely added touches, we got a cover in this record, and while it is not necessary at all, it is still an interesting one. Slayer have covered the Judas Priest classic "Dissident Aggressor" from "Sin After Sin", a great song that Slayer transforms to their own, and while it does not steal the show, it is a valiant effort that gives the song a new character. I like it, and it fits neatly into the album.

Overall, "South of Heaven" is a disappointment, with some lows and some highs in just over 35 minutes. We all knew that it would not reach the same heights as "Reign In Blood", that was given, but one would hope that it still would hold a high quality. It is a challenging record, one that tests the patience of the common Slayer fan, but there is enough interesting stuff in here to keep it from being boring. I like the fact that the band tried something different here, but let us be honest, we want the faster stuff instead of this. So move on over "South of Heaven" and let me get to the next album in the discography already.

Songs worthy of recognition: Silent Scream, South of Heaven, Ghosts of War

Rating: 6,5/10 Mandatory Suicides

More reviews of Slayer
Show No Mercy
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Reign In Blood

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

HammerFall - Built To Last (2016)

With the release of "Built To Last", Swedish power/heavy metallers HammerFall have finally reached their tenth release, a milestone that many bands wish to reach. It is proof that the band's determination and hard work have really payed off, building a grand fan base and a reputation of quality that has stood with them ever since their first couple of releases. It has become a stronghold that is guarded by their loyal hero/mascot Hector, and will most certainly stand tall for a lot more albums to come.

With that said, the band has had a nasty habit of almost being safe in their song writing. If we look back in their catalog, it is easy to see that the band are comfortable in their style and themes, but rarely want to go away from them (and when they do, they mostly get hammered by the Templars). The same story is told here in "Built To Last", we get a lot of familiar themes here that we almost expect from the band, songs about warriors, steel, and battles. I know the guys can tell these stories well, but it can turn to cheese quite easily, and there is a lot of it on this record. But then again, what would a HammerFall record be without some cheese? The answer, a boring one.

The music is very familiar too, we got several classic HammerFall tunes here that are surely enjoyable, but far from any future classics. We got some pure power songs that gets you pumped up, some slower and catchier songs with classic battle choirs, and also that pesky ballad that the band forces into every album. There is no song in this record that seems to steer away from what HammerFall has been doing since the start, which is truly a shame, especially since "(r)Evolution" had a couple of songs, like "Wildfire" and "Origins", that may have borrowed a lot from other power metal bands, but was new and exciting to HammerFall. Simply put, the innovative energy is not here in "Built To Last".

That is not to say that there is no energy here though, because there is plenty of it. "Dethrone And Defy" has some good pounding double bass, chugging guitars, and a force that gives the whole album a needful spark. It still lacks in star power when compared to the fantastic "Hector's Hymn", but the solo itself makes it a clear highlight that cannot be missed. "Stormbreaker" and "The Star of Home" continues in the same fashion, but the plot thickens in the final song "Second To None", a fresh finisher that has a really nice mood, and some great performances in this semi ballad. It is the cherry on the top of a tasty second half.

Unfortunately though, the whole album has a problem with lasting all the way through, forcing you to skip some songs. We have a clear Accept rip off in "New Breed" that shows that the band has not lost their more traditional heavy metal vein, but it just does not work this time, and "The Sacred Vow" is just sluggish, having a hard time catching my interest. And of course, the ballad "Twilight Princess" is also very forgettable, being one of many bland HammerFall ballads that is not even close to reaching the heights that "Glory To The Brave" reached. So overall, the quality of "Built To Last" is decent, but far from spectacular.

One thing that is always spectacular though is the band's performance. Joacim Cans and his high voice is on point as always, and the twin guitar attack of Oscar Dronjak and Pontus Norgren is as solid as ever. My worries were with the new drummer though, especially since David Wallin comes from a different spectrum, playing in the industrial metal band Pain. Fortunately, he does a good job, maybe mimicking Anders Johansson a little too much, but he does what he is asked to do, so job well done.

While I do believe that "Built To Last" is a good album overall, it has some dents that needs to be taken care of. Some songs are really enjoyable, but the album as a whole feels like one big deja vu, not adding anything that we have not already seen from the band. If you are a fan, this album will go down smoothly for you, it is classic HammerFall stuff that seems to never grow old. For you others, you better just ignore this one.

Songs worthy of recognition: Dethrone And Defy, Stormbreaker, Second To None

Rating: 6,5/10 Hammers High

More reviews of HammerFall