Sunday, January 29, 2017

Slayer - Christ Illusion (2006)

The first word that comes to my head when I watch the cover artwork for Slayer's "Christ Illusion" is "nostalgia", because this is basically another "Reign In Blood" cover, only more yellow. It is actually a pretty accurate description of the album as a whole too. The band went back to their core sound in this record, and most of the blame could probably be laid on Dave Lombardo, whom returned to the band after Paul Bostaph had to leave because of a chronic elbow injury. Now, Lombardo was not in the song writing process, but I believe the rest of the band got some old school inspiration because of this member change.

The band is not wasting any time or space in this record, cranking up the speed and intensity from the start, hardly letting go of the gas pedal in any part of this album. This obviously makes "Christ Illusion" one of the most intense Slayer albums in a long time, mostly because it is as straight forward as it can get, not containing any bullshit. However, there were still a lack of quality song writing in here, especially in the lyrical department that were more of the same old stuff of religion, war, and that.

But the thing that really hindered "Christ Illusion" in my humble opinion is the lack of memorable songs. Most of them are good, that is for sure, but it is not easy to remember them, because Slayer has done so many other, similar songs that are simply better. It all starts with the riffs, while being good fun and all, King and Hanneman simply did not produce anything extra ordinary here, and the same can definitely be said about the solos that do not elevate the experience all that much.

The only time I even get really excited in this album comes in the second to last song "Cult", where Slayer is bashing religion like a boxer facing an old lady in the ring. With the lines "Religion is hate/Religion is fear/Religion is war/Religion is rape/Religion's obscene/Religion's a whore", Slayer is not holding back anything, attacking with brute force. An impressive assault that comes a little too late, but it does give a much needed boost to the album (and helps the final song, "Supremist", too). Otherwise, the only other song that really stands out is "Eyes of The Insane", not because it is a good song or anything, but because it won Slayer their first Grammy award, which is odd since I do not even think it is one of the better songs of this album. Oh well, we all know the Grammies are a joke anyway.

Back to the album, because even if I have been pretty rough on the band and on "Christ Illusion", I still think this is one of their best records in over 15 years. It is hard hitting, consistent, and a nostalgia trip that just warms a thrashers heart. As said though, this is still an album with few stand out riffs, solos, and songs, so the band can absolutely do better. It is still a very enjoyable album, and a successful comeback of the original line up, but it just does not hold up for any prolonged time, that's all.

Songs worthy of recognition: Cult, Skeleton Christ, Jihad

Rating: 7,5/10 Consfearacies

More reviews of Slayer
Show No Mercy
Hell Awaits
Reign In Blood
South of Heaven
Seasons In The Abyss
Divine Intervention
Diabolus In Musica
God Hates Us All

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Pain of Salvation - In The Passing Light of Day (2017)

It is funny sometime how life works, that one action or event can change history, or that if one accidental thing had not happened, it would have not lead to this or that. The new Pain of Salvation album "In The Passing Light of Day" is just another example of how life works, because this is an album that would not have been made if the band's circumstances had been any different.

I really don't know if you can call this a concept album, but it more or less describes the feelings of singer Daniel Gildenlöw and his time in the hospital, discovering and recovering from a nasty flesh eating bacteria that easily could have killed him. We get to follow all of ups and downs, getting another view of life and death, and all the emotions that comes with it. This definitely makes "In The Passing Light of Day" a heavy, and almost depressing, record, where your emotions take over the wheel for the whole ride.

Now, themes and lyrics can only take things so far, so the music has to deliver as well, and Daniel and co. do not disappoint. The album opens with the 10 minute song "On A Tuesday", which has some frightening riffs that really digs under your skin, and it is accompanied with several other bits that makes this basically a horror movie, perfectly simulating the moment when the disease was discovered. Musically, this is vintage Pain of Salvation, no calm "down to Earth" 70's retro sound like in the "Road Salt" albums, just good old progressive metal at its best. This tension continues on to the following song, "Tongue of God", a chunky song with pitch black darkness and despair.

After that though, the band punches you in the stomach. No seriously, "Meaningless" is a heart breaking song, both in sound and lyrics, where Daniel delivers some painful vocals. It really shows you just how good the band is at expressing emotions. The rest of the album (besides the loud and blocky "Full Throttle Tribe") is more quiet and calm, not as stand out as the opening trio, but they complement each other so well, creating an album that holds up really well, even if the play time is well over an hour.

The full performance is extremely delicate, with the band making sure that every beat does not skew off the path that they are trying to lay up. The guitar work is excellent, delivering memorable riffs while also knowing when to take a step back and let the keys take over. The drums are a little more modern sounding than on the "Road Salt" albums, but some of that retro layering is still there, which might bother some, but I think they fit nicely. The only thing that bothers me though is that the band sounds a lot like Queensrÿche from time to time in this record, but it is not enough to really affect the overall score.

In the end though, "In The Passing Light of Day" is all about the emotions, and the music comes only in second place. Sure, the second half of the record is slow as hell, a certain obstacle for the impatient ones, but it needs to be this slow, it can't emote what Daniel have gone through otherwise. Also, while songs like "On A Tuesday" and "Meaningless" are standing out as much as they do, it is important to not forget the more anonymous songs, or even better, just listen to the album in full instead of just listening to individual tracks. Only time will tell if this will become an album that people can point to as one of Pain of Salvation's finest moment, but the concept and themes will always be remembered. Happy to have you alive Daniel.

Songs worthy of recognition: On A Tuesday, Meaningless, Full Throttle Tribe, The Passing Light of Day

Rating: 9/10 Reasons

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Lancer - Mastery (2016)

I have followed Lancer from the start, or at least from their first full length release and onwards. Their first two releases of NWoBHM influenced power metal are really good and very enjoyable, but still lacked something to elevate the band to the next level. Well, they have at least made a move to make that leap, signing with Nuclear Blast right before the unveiling of their third release. It still does not have to mean anything though, because it is the music that speaks the loudest in the end.

So has anything changed since "Second Storm"? Well, the sound is still fairly similar, but the NWoBHM influence is taking more of a backseat ride here, and the band turns up the heaviness instead. This makes "Mastery" sound more like a mix of Stratovarius and HammerFall, blending heavy hitters with soaring melodies. It is a parable that makes even more sense when you hear the vocalist Isak Stenvall, who sings with a high pitch that is not too far off from either Joacim Cans or Timo Kotipelto. In other words, he fits very well with the music.

Even if you cannot unsee these parables, it is pretty hard to not enjoy the music in "Mastery", because most of it pumps your adrenaline in just the right way, while also being really catchy. The title track roars on in an astounding way, with the band showing off all of their power, while both "Widowmaker", "Envy of The Gods", and "Future Millennia" leans more on the melodies, while still maintaining a fast momentum. While I feel like not all of the power songs in this record does not work (looking at you "Dead Raising Towers" and "Iscariot"), it is still enough quality here to make "Mastery" an excellent power metal outing.

What does surprise me though is that the two slower songs on this record, "Victims of The Nile" and "World Unknown", not  only brings some good variation, but actually shines really bright in comparison to a lot of its brethren. Especially "Victims of The Nile" is a great moody song that may be the longest song on this record (7 minutes and 36 seconds), but the band manages to hold it together in an impressive way, changing tempos and intensity throughout its run time. It reminds me of some of HammerFall's finest ballad moments, only this one is more versatile and exciting.

While the band is doing a really nice job on this record, I feel like the guitars are almost getting lost in the mix, never really standing out. It is pretty hard to extinguish that Lancer is a double guitar band, and the production is definitely to blame here. I find this especially odd in the song "Freedom Eaters", a song that has a long solo part at the end where the guitar sure gets its moment, but I remember the following bass and drum solo more. Still a great song, but it is exhibit A in why the guitars are not getting the love they deserve in this album.

Nonetheless, I think that "Mastery" not only holds the same standard as both "Lancer" and "Second Storm", but it might even be their best record so far. Sure, it has its flaws, and the band still has some kinks to work through, but they are on the right path. This heavier style works really well, and if the band keeps evolving in this direction, then the recognition will probably be even greater. Great job lads!

Songs worthy of recognition: Mastery, Future Millennia, Victims of The Nile, Freedom Eaters

Rating: 8/10 Iscariots

More reviews of Lancer
Second Storm

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Grave Digger - Healed By Metal (2017)

"Healed By Metal". Let that title sink in for a bit. Yes, it is one of the cheesier ones out there, but what can you really expect from a band like Grave Digger, who has been in the game for a lot of year, doing their own thing. The point is, as long as the band holds its own weight, you know that the end result will be a good one, which is usually the case with these Germans.

Well, not much has changed since 2014, which is when they last released an album ("Return of The Reaper"). It is still catchy German heavy metal with its roots planted in the medieval age. The music is familiar, the themes as well, leaving no fan disappointed. Sure, it is cheesy here and there (especially in the title track), but it works really well.

What ultimately defines a Grave Digger record is the quality of the songs, and we got several ones that has the potential to knock you off your feet. "When Night Falls" is an instant classic, a powerful charge with sweet riffs, solos, and an epic chorus that was made for loud mouthed metal heads. Another mauler is "Call For War", and even if it might be stolen from Sabaton's classic recipe of bombastic power metal, it is still a blood pumping song that suits the band very well. Then we have "Hallelujah", which... well.. do I really need to mention that it makes you a believer? Thought so.

There are a couple of songs though that are more reminiscent of classic rock than pure heavy metal, and the consequences for the album is that it becomes less cohesive in its sound. While the bonus song "Bucket List" does not make any sense at all, I do think that this different sound worked to a small extent. "Free Forever" has a really nice catchy chorus that does not take too much space, but it just does not have the punch to make me love it. Punch is something "Kill Ritual" do have in its chorus, which is arguably the catchiest one in the album, but there is something about it that makes it feel stolen. Possibly from some late 80's band or something. Oh well, it is a really fun song, and the band truly shows it with their playful performance.

While the album does have several nice outings here and there, I almost feel like "Healed By Metal" had the same main problem as its predecessor, that it just lacks the momentum to carry through the entire playtime. Songs like "Laughing With The Dead" and "Ten Commandments of Metal" tries to change up the tempo, but it ends up holding the album back instead. I guess this is a problem only a few of you would agree with me on, but I just feel like it is a missed opportunity here, they could have done it better. With that said though, it is still obvious that the band has a lot of fire left in them, so they will probably not hang up their instruments just yet.

So yeah, "Healed By Metal" may not truly possess any healing powers that would revolutionize the medical system, but it eases the pain that we all experience when we go on for a prolonged time without our favourite type of music. It is an enjoyable album with several good hits here and there, nothing too ground breaking or anything, but comfortable enough for your everyday listening session. Yes, Grave Digger delivers yet another good, solid album with good German heavy metal.

Songs worthy of recognition: When Night Falls, Call For War, Kill Ritual

Rating: 7/10 Lawbreakers

More reviews of Grave Digger
Return of The Reaper

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Slayer - God Hates Us All (2001)

There is no surprise that Slayer chose "God Hates Us All" as their next album title. While I do not think it is a direct reference to what they did in their last album, I can imagine that God did not like that one all too much (or anyone else for that matter). No, the title stems instead from the track "Disciple", and it is both an impactful slogan and a good hint at what the band is speaking about in the lyrics. No matter what, it is also a sign that the band was back at their old tricks again, making millions of fans breath a sigh of relief.

Yes, "God Hates Us All" is no weird 90's nu-metal experiment, it is straight up Slayer thrash instead. While it may not have the same furious spirit as some of their early releases, it is still good thrashing fun for the entire family, just what you want from a band like Slayer. The guitars are angry, the vocals are angry, the drums are angry, and the bass is as happy as can be... just kidding, it is angry as well. You can just feel the anger that fuels this album, and it is a very lovely feeling.

The band is obviously in the hunt for redemption with this album, and they do get it to some extent. I do think that the songs here though are ranging between good to mediocre, and the lack of a true knock out punch makes "God Hates Us All" feel a little more lack luster in its approach. There is still a lot of songs to enjoy here though, like "Disciple", "Exile", "Cast Down" and "War Zone", so you can tell that the band has not been lazy in the song writing process.

With that said though, I feel like "God Hates Us All" is an album that could have been done even better if the band had cut out a couple of songs. The album is not really too long (roughly 42 minutes), but it is packed with 13 songs, which is the most we have seen in a single Slayer album still to this date. With some of the fat trimmed away, this could have been a fantastic album. It is still a pretty damn consistent album from start to finish, but that makes me want a more compressed version even more. After all, the best Slayer albums are short and sweet.

What more can I really say here? This is the Slayer that we want, not that weird band we got in "Diabolus In Musica". "God Hates Us All" is angry, heavy, and overall a really solid album where the band never really shines, but delivers the goods in a very admirably way. It is a comeback that was much needed, and it shot the band into the 21st century with some good momentum. All in all, it is vintage Slayer, no more, no less.

Songs worthy of recognition: Disciple, Cast Down, War Zone

Rating: 7/10 Paybacks

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

Monday, January 9, 2017

Mechina - As Embers Turn To Dust (2017)

Another year, another Mechina album on the 1st of January, a tradition that has gone on for 5 straight years now. Usually, when a band spits out albums in such a frenetic pace, it starts to wear out after a while, sounding sloppy for every oncoming release. Somehow, Mechina has not fallen into this trap yet, because even if all of their albums are fairly similar in sound and style, they still hold an incredibly high quality to their music, with no visible cracks so far in its foundation.

I think the main reason for the band's continued success is their drive and focus, basically ignoring any tours or shows to make every new release as good as possible. The concept helps a lot too, a concept that has been ongoing since 2011 and has only reached the halfway point with the release of "As Embers Turn To Dust". It is hard to take the whole concept in, but it seems like it tells us about the colonization process for one of their previous albums... I mean one planet, probably "Acheron" since this album has a lot of similar features. Some Vanguards leads these humans to a new planet, where the cyborg Vanguards ultimately starts eliminating all organic life on the planet, creating a fully mechanized era on the new planet. Granted, I could be awfully wrong here, so it might be better if you check out their Wiki page to get some more sense into all of this.

The music is clear cut at least, and it is as epic and heavy as ever. The band thunders on with their unique mix of industrial, death, melodic, and sci-fi metal, carrying the album through time and space. It should come as no surprise that not much has changed in the sound itself, but I notice that we have more songs that sticks with you instantly. The opener "Godspeed, Vanguards" is a good proof of that, containing an epic aura that is created by a grand arrangement and David Holch's apocalyptic voice. That voice of his is awesome at creating the right emotions, like the despair he has in "The Tellurian Pathos" is a hair riser of the highest level, and his harsher vocals in "Creation Level Event" has that frantic madness that simply works in this kind of song. It has been a main concern in the past that the songs does not stand out, so I am glad to see that is not the case with this album.

The performances on this album is great as usual, and we once again get a healthy dose of Mel Rose here, bringing some extra beauty to the music. I especially love her performance in "The Synesthesia Signal", where her fragile voice is in the middle of this chaotic madness, creating an incredibly tense song. I still wish though that the guitar could step forward more often, since it is very rare that I find riffs that grabs a hold of me. Oh well, it is how the band has always done it, and it is just a minor complaint for me (and probably a more major complaint for someone else).

Even with this impressive song catalog, "As Embers Turn To Dust" has one thing that is kind of off putting, and it is that this album has several long instrumental parts that builds atmosphere, nothing new to the band in any way, but they are bigger than before. Still, I do not think they take away an awful lot from the experience, but it does make it harder for me to give a complete opinion of the album, because while it works as beautiful transitions, the momentum suffers from it.

So, halfway into this epic multi album saga, where do I put "As Embers Turn To Dust"? The band keeps on evolving in several ways, especially in both song writing and production, but is it enough to make it last through the rest of this fresh year? Probably not, but it is still a great achievement to put out new music every year, without losing too much of the quality in both music and story. Mechina never ceases to amaze, and while it will be hard to acquire any new fans from this record, it is still a welcome new year's tradition that I hope will continue on for at least one more year. Godspeed, Mechina.

Songs worthy of recognition: The Synesthesia Signal, "Godspeed, Vanguards", The Tellurian Pathos

Rating: 8/10 Impact Proxies

More reviews of Mechina

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Slayer - Diabolus In Musica (1998)

Looking into the Slayer discography, "Diabolus In Musica" is probably the album that stands out like a sore thumb, an ugly mark on an otherwise excellent retrospective. Now, why is this so? The obvious answer is that the album is different, very different from what a typical Slayer album is. Okay, not that different, but different enough to make one cringe.

"Diabolus In Musica" was released in 1998, in a time when the nu-metal scene dominated, something that is most certainly reflected into the album (and the new band logo for that matter). This album is a full on experiment, it takes the classic Slayer sound, throws it in a blender together with some Pantera groove, creating some weird, murky 90's metal humbug (plus some dust, don't breathe this). This description is awful in itself, and unfortunately, it does not sound much better.

The classic Slayer sound is there, buried deep behind a couple of C# tuned guitars that are taken straight from hell's trash bin. I do not know if it is the production or the actual guitars that makes them sound so awkward. There are some great riffs here and there, but it simply does not hold up. Araya also sounds weird here, probably because there are a lot of different effects that skews his voice. He tries, but he can't help it here. The only one that sounds fairly normal is Bostaph and his drums, and thank god for that, because without them, this album would be a complete mess.

So are the songs any good though? Well, the before mentioned stuff makes it harder to appreciate them, and there is none that is anywhere close to the best Slayer songs, but there are some that is noteworthy. "Stain of Mind" actually gets the groove thrash right, making a weirdly enjoyable Rage Against The Machine beat that suits nicely with Araya's aggressive style. "Scrum" might be short, but it is sweet as hell, blasting through in an impressive manner, something that "Point" also points out nicely.

Slayer (or should I call them §LL^YER?) tried to show that they could keep up with the young folks and their music, and to no one's surprise, they failed miserably. It might have been an album that worked for the time being, but it just does not hold up today, mostly because the effects and production is just garbage. There is some glimmer of hope here and there, but not nearly enough to save the album. So yes, this is without any competition the worst Slayer album out there, because of the simple fact that it sounds like a cheap copy of Slayer.

Songs worthy of recognition: Scrum, Stain of Mind, Point

Rating: 4,5/10 Desires

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