3/23/2017

Overkill - The Grinding Wheel Review


OVERKILL
The Grinding Wheel (2017)
Genres: Thrash Metal, Groove Metal, Epic Metal, Blues Metal
★★★★★★
(Godly - An album to worship)

"I grabbed a tape from the floor of the car, jammed it in the dash it played Highway Star. With a foot of lead and that Chevy hop, never gonna stop!"

The Mean, Green, Killing Machine is back with The Grinding Wheel, so Let's All Go to Hades to listen to the Finest Hour. We listeners may get into some Goddamn Trouble while taking The Long Road, but forever Shine On. Come Heavy as The Wheel spins while the Red, White, and Blue waves. Overkill's back after a bit longer of a wait than usual, and it's worth it. As this is simply one of the greatest albums the band and music itself has ever produced.

Opening with the rampaging thrash of "Mean, Green, Killing Machine", this album pretty much never lets up with speedy rapid thrashings and groovy swaggering. The no-bullshit romp and stomp of the track "Goddamn Trouble" is essentially Overkill's own Highway Star and just makes you want to step on the gas and blast away to some tunes that are on absolute fire. This is a band that's been around for well over 30 years, but has more energy than most modern bands can claim to have. Take the rampaging punchy thrash that the band has been blazin' through since 2010's Ironbound, and mix it with a southern bluesy swaggering groove and a bit of Iron Maiden-esque epicness, and you got this killer record.

It's pretty much impossible to pick highlights, as every song slays and has an unbelievable amount of energy. Just try and not to get pumped and ready to conquer the world when listening to this album. Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth gives one of the greatest vocal performances ever, spitting both epic and energetic fun vocal lines. It's impossible to not chant along to songs like "The Long Road" and "Red, White, and Blue" with the delivery of lines like "We're goin' down the mountain, boys" and "Give us liberty, or we can give you death!". D.D. Verni's basslines are just as fantastic as always, and keeps a catchy as hell rhythm section with Ron Lipnicki absolutely walloping the drum kit like there's no tomorrow. Dave Linsk and Derek "The Skull" Tailer both shred and swing like the thrash masters they are, and are among the very best. The thrashings are brutal, the bluesy grooves are just swingin', and the epic moments couldn't be more epic. The title track that closes the album is the definition of a fantastic finale, it maintains the crunch and speed in places of the rest of the album all the while being a nearly 8-minute epic worthy of classic Iron Maiden or Rush's Cygnus X-1. The orchestration and vocals will send shivers down the spine at the end of the massive conclusion to The Grinding Wheel.

As much as some bands may try, nothing says consistent like Overkill, with only Anvil coming close to matching the classic thrash metal act's consistency. Overkill goes beyond consistency though, and makes one of the greatest damn albums ever made. It's an equal to The Years of Decay, which is another one of the greatest albums ever made. If you are a fan of real, no-bullshit metal, listen to this album. You know, even if you just need a reminder about what metal is, Overkill is metal in it's most powerful form. Even on their sixteenth studio album, Overkill continues to deliver the old school thrashing goods. Just like those lyrics from "Goddamn Trouble", Overkill ain't never gonna stop.

Written on MMA (MetalMusicArchives)

See review here: http://www.metalmusicarchives.com/review/the-grinding-wheel/339431

Filter - Short Bus Review


FILTER
Short Bus (1995)
Genres: Industrial Metal, Alternative Rock
 ★★★★
(Excellent - highly recommended listening)

In the land of industrial rock and metal, many bands get unfairly compared to Nine Inch Nails. While those who are more familiar with the genre will find that these comparisons are often silly and nonsensical, these are probably simply due to NIN being the one that really "made it big". Sure, other bands have had their fair share of popularity over the years, but NIN remains the most remembered and popular.

One of the many industrial rock/metal bands to get these comparisons was Filter. True, frontman Richard Patrick was a live guitarist for NIN before forming Filter, but Patrick felt there was something missing in Reznor's sound. Once you finish the first song on the album, the hit "Hey Man, Nice Shot", it's quite apparent. That which was missing was a crushing metallic slab of guitars, blended with menacing industrial soundscapes. This continues throughout most of the album, think less NIN and more Godflesh and Pitchshifter. The crunch of the riffing, drum grooves, and screeching industrial distortion all makes it fit right in line with the classic industrial metal sound, while also having just the right amount of that misanthropic angst that industrial music had at the time. 

The aforementioned hit that opens up the album is of course probably the top highlight, but there's many other songs here that slam your face into the pavement. "Under" is one of the best of these, with an awesome pummeling groove. The two surrounding songs of "Dose" and "Spent" are also among the highlights and deliver with great force. All of these mentioned songs along with "Gerbil" and "White Like That", all have this absolutely massive guitar and colossal drum sound blended with Richard Patrick's raging screams, which is this album's strength.

Unfortunately, not all these songs display the power riffage and edgy screams that this album is great for. Right after a crushing number like "White Like That", you get a double-whammy of pathetic whimpers in "Consider This" and "So Cool" which both fall flat on their faces. The former has electric guitars, but they may as well not be there, while the latter is an acoustic ballad that sounds like a rejected Porcupine Tree ballad. "Stuck in Here" is another one of these tracks, but maybe a bit less annoying. 

Despite there being a few terrible tracks, all the punchy groovy industrial behemoth tracks make up for those mistakes. If you're looking for an industrial metal album that balances out the heaviness and distortion of Godflesh and Pitchshifter with the extra edge of alternative metal, Filter's Short Bus delivers.

Written on MMA (MetalMusicArchives)

3/16/2017

Jurassic Jade - War By Proxy Review


JURASSIC JADE
War By Proxy (1987)
Genre: Thrash Metal
★★★★★
(Masterpiece - among the best in the genre)

As far as music goes, most people think of J-pop stars when they think of Japan. When it comes to metal, most people think of Babymetal, which is basically the same thing with metal instruments. However, Japan was once home to some of the greatest underground thrash acts to have ever graced the 80's metal scene. One of the greatest of those acts are Jurassic Jade, who released their War By Proxy EP in 1987, one of thrash's best hidden gems.

Right from the start with "Who Saw Him Die?", Jurassic Jade is out for blood. The riffs rip and tear, and Hizumi's vocals are among the most raw and commanding in thrash. She can go from vicious barks to banshee shrieks that rival Tom Araya on the classic Slayer albums. "Call Down Curse", while only being two and a half minutes long, is perhaps the best with some excellent crash cymbal that really stands out during the chorus. The only time this EP ever lets up is with a short but sweet classical guitar outro that closes it out. Usually thrash bands start out with a classical intro, but I guess Jurassic Jade wanted to let the listener have a little relaxing time after the punishing thrashing.

The production is raw, sharp, and to the point. It makes the riffing that much more piercing, although it makes the album punchy and crushing in the right places as well. An example of that is with "Ao Shoku Haijin", which has such a deep low crunch for the drums. This song also is more of a mid-paced thrash track, being a bit of a break from the speed from most of the EP, which needs a punchy production to make it more effective. "Dead Men Tell No Tales" balances out the crunch and gritty speed, and has both a punchy and piercing sound.

Not only is War by Proxy one of the greatest Japanese thrash releases, but it is up there with the greatest thrash releases in general. Just like the US and German thrash scenes were quite different, so was the Japanese thrash scene. If you like your metal to shred your skin and punch you in the gut, check out this underrated masterpiece. 

Written on MMA (MetalMusicArchives)

See review here: http://www.metalmusicarchives.com/review/war-by-proxy(ep)/340941

3/12/2017

Akphaezya - Anthology II : Links from the Dead Trinity Review


AKPHAEZYA
Anthology II : Links from the Dead Trinity (2008)
Genres: Avant-Garde Metal
★★★
(Decent - worth a listen)

Avant-garde metal is usually an interesting listen, as you never quite know what to expect. It's home to bands that exceed the boundaries of other genres, often incorporating many elements of non-metal music beyond the usual classical music and jazz fusion technique of instrumentation. Now, interesting doesn't always mean good, and I often find avant-garde metal to be a mess of ideas. Because of this, it can either be fantastic when those ideas are all incorporated into a cohesive whole, or very painful to listen to when those ideas are scattered all around with nothing to put them together.

French avant-garde metal band Akphaezya unfortunately ends up sounding like the latter in the first song after a sort of ambient intro. "Chrysalis" sounds like separate jam sessions placed over each other in a smorgasbord of styles that lack the cohesion that could put all the pieces together. One second there well be a calm and serene folk melody, then without warning black metal blastbeats and growls come in like you just turned on a different album. This keeps repeating throughout the song with various styles. It's a real shame, as I love the jazzy lounge/swing metal moments when they come in, but nothing lasts long enough to get the listener really invested.

The album isn't entirely like this however. Thankfully, there are several songs that stick to one style each for the most part. I think this is what generally works better. Mixing a slew of ideas is great, but it can be much more rewarding when each song uses one or two of those styles rather than trying to stick as much as you can into one song. "The Golden Vortex of Kaltaz" is the highlight of the album, and it takes on a somewhat thrash-y symphonic metal sound. The guitars have a gritty crunch, while the vocals range from melodic clean vocals to growls a couple times within the song. "The Secret of Time" is another one of the best tracks, this time with a middle-eastern vibe.

Besides the lack of cohesion on several tracks, what often kills the album for me are the vocals. The instrumentation is very often great when it all fits together, but Nehl Aëlin's thick accent and eclectic use of vocal techniques end up ruining some songs that would otherwise be great. Take "Reflections" for example. There's some killer guitar licks, but I find it annoying and distracting when the vocals are switching from bouncy J-pop, to maniacal squealing a la The Mars Volta, to simply average melodic vocals. While vocalists who have this eclectic range of tones and styles to their voice are often lauded, I often find the multiple singing styles works better overall when multiple singers are applied, as usually the singers can play off of one another, making them all blend well. However, I will give credit where credit is due, as her vocals on the two songs I mentioned in the previous paragraph are pretty great.

Akphaezya's Anthology II: Links from the Dead Trinity is certainly an acquired taste. While it will probably be an excellent album for the staunch followers of the genre, this may be a bit of a tough listen at times for those who like a bit more cohesion in their music. It's nowhere near the worst of the genre, but nowhere near the best either. If they focused in on one or two styles for each song and didn't include crazy vocals, I think this could be a great record.

Written on MMA (MetalMusicArchives) for the Reviewer's Challenge

See review here: http://www.metalmusicarchives.com/review/anthology-ii-links-from-the-dead-trinity/340789

3/07/2017

Anvil - Worth the Weight Review


ANVIL
Worth the Weight (1992)
Genres: Thrash Metal, Speed Metal
 ★★★★
(Excellent - recommended listening)

Anvil brings on the thrash!

Canadian heavy metal act Anvil is one of those bands that often gets forgotten yet maintains a strong cult following. Since their inception, Anvil has never stopped delivering fist-pumping heavy metal and has always been consistent, think the traditional metal equivalent to Overkill. The band has made use of a few other metal genres over their career, but it rarely took dominance within the band's own sound. There are a couple albums in their career where they have more of a lean towards thrash/speed metal.

Anvil were no strangers to thrash metal by 1992, as they dabbled in thrash on 1988's Pound for Pound, but Worth the Weight shows the band take that influence further. One possible hint towards a more thrash-y edge are the longer track lengths, with two of them going over the seven minute mark. Some of the lyrics also take a darker tone, but Anvil wouldn't be Anvil if they didn't keep their humor and slight-sleaziness in a couple tracks. 

The general sound of this album is somewhere between the band's own sound, Mercyful Fate/King Diamond, and Megadeth. The best example of this comparison is in my favorite on the album, "Bushpig", which is one of the greatest speed metal tracks I've ever heard. The guitar and drums just race by like a speeding car, while Steve "Lips" Kudlow nails both Dave Mustaine's sneer and King Diamond's heady screeches all the while being the Lips Anvil fans know and love. The guitar solos rip throughout the album, and the speed of much of the album is contrasted with colossal grooves. Check out "AZ #85" for proof of that, the crunching stomp of Robb Reiner's drums pound like a nail while the solos rapidly shred. 

The production has that early 90's thrash album vibe to it, having that powerful and punchy sound that made albums like Cowboys From Hell, Horrorscope, and Persistence of Time so heavy. This production really makes the grooves so much punchier, and the speed so much more sharp. "Sins of the Flesh" highlights this sound well, with the bass getting a bit of time to shine during a bridge. The band would actually continue to have this awesome production on many of their future albums.

While the classic Metal on Metal or This is Thirteen would generally be the best place to start for getting into Anvil, Worth the Weight would be an excellent entrance point for a thrasher looking to get into the band.

Written on MMA (MetalMusicArchives)

See review here: http://www.metalmusicarchives.com/review/worth-the-weight/336975

3/02/2017

Arch Enemy - Doomsday Machine Review


ARCH ENEMY
Doomsday Machine (2005)
Genres: Melodic Death Metal, Groove/Thrash Metal
★★★★★
(Masterpiece - among the best in the genre)

"Watch the skeleton dance."

Many people seem to see melodic death metal as a real hit-or-miss genre, rarely being middle of the road. It either misses like a miscalculated golf swing, or hits hard as steel. I see it no differently. While the genre is home to many albums that just fall flat, there's always a handful of hole-in-ones that makes up for any bad shots that may be prevalent. 

One complaint I have for melodic death metal, is that it often loses a lot of that raw and aggressive punch that is so essential to death metal. However, Arch Enemy's underrated Doomsday Machine should be the guidebook for how to make a death metal album that has a melodic sensibility but still kicks your ass. As you enter the machine, you're greeted with some of the most piercing and grooving riffing that has ever been present in death metal. I could name off any song to showcase this, but perhaps one of the best examples is the screeching homing missile attack of a main riff of "Nemesis". "My Apocalypse" may very well be my all time favorite death metal song, and just crushes the listeners skull with it's pummeling groove. That aggression is contrasted perfectly with a quiet atmospheric bridge, which features echoed-tone chords and a sublime guitar solo. The similarly toned chords that open up "Mechanic God Creation" is one of the best moments on the album, and is just as satisfying to hear every time I listen to it.

Speaking of, the Amott brothers' guitar playing is absolutely phenomenal and among the finest in death metal. Unlike the normal constant chugging of many modern technical and brutal death metal bands, these guys have infectious thrashing hooks and virtuoso soloing. I'm sometimes reminded of Rust in Peace-era Marty Friedman and Dave Mustaine's leads with some of the melodies. Sometimes there's even references to neo-classical shredders, such as the main riff in the instrumental "Hybrids of Steel". Angela Gossow's vocals are at their best on this album, and are among the most brutal in metal. Her growls and snarls pierce the skin just as much as the guitar licks. Her vocal performance on the first few songs and "Skeleton Dance" is especially fantastic. The whole album just sounds so damn colossal. The rhythm section is commanding, and the production is loud and almost mechanical sounding. The album really feels like a machine being constructed in a clanking and rattling factory.

Doomsday Machine is not only a unique melodic death metal album, but it's quite a unique album in general. I haven't heard an album that blends melodic guitar leads, death, thrash, and groove this well before. The tones and overall sound of the album as well is something that I've yet to hear replicated. If I had to choose, this is probably my all-time favorite death metal album. It's got raw brutality, groove, and crushing aggression all with a sense of harmony. It's a modern classic that still sounds fresh over a decade later.

Written on MMA (MetalMusicArchives)

See review here: http://www.metalmusicarchives.com/review/doomsday-machine/299714

2/27/2017

Iron Maiden - Dance of Death Review


(Good cover artwork)

(Original)

IRON MAIDEN
Dance of Death (2003)
Genre: Heavy Metal
★★★★
(Excellent - highly recommended listening)

"Don't judge a book by it's cover."

While the above quote is a terrible cliche, as book cover artwork (or in this case album art) should reflect what's inside, there's a great deal of books and albums that come across as something else with what's shown on the front. I think we all know the story of Iron Maiden's infamous cover art for Dance of Death, the cover artwork is in its unfinished state and for some reason the band wanted it as is. The artist understandably didn't want to be credited for the monstrosity that is Dance of Death's front cover, and it went down in history as one of metal's worst album covers.

Maybe the band was just drinking a few too many beers, but whatever the case, they ended up making the cover of their 2003 album appear to be from an early 2000's power metal band who just discovered Photoshop and MySpace and was trying way too hard to be Helloween. However, despite all the colorful jokes that a comedic metalhead could shoot at the album cover, there is something about it that does somewhat fit the album. Just like the cover is left in an unfinished state, Dance of Death actually feels like it's a bit of a stripped-down album in a way.

By stripped-down, I don't mean that this is some garage rock album in the vein of The White Stripes, but it's the one modern day Iron Maiden album that feels like it has all the elements and spirit that made the band's classic albums so great. It has the energy of The Number of the Beast and Piece of Mind, as well as the epic heavy metal of Powerslave and Somewhere in Time. There's none of the excess of Seventh Son of a Seventh Son or The X Factor, what you have here is simply a killer epic heavy metal album, that well represents what the band is all about.

Unlike most of Maiden's modern albums, there's a perfect blend of the band's epic tracks and more energetic and fast-paced pure heavy metal tracks. "Wildest Dreams", "Rainmaker", "New Frontier", and "Montsegur" all get the listener pumped while "No More Lies", "Paschendale", and the title track are all worthy of the band's best classic epics. "Journeyman" is a bit of a unique track for the band, being all acoustic, and actually ranks among the best on the album. "Montsegur" and "Paschendale" are both historically-themed and coincidentally the two best. The former is about the cruel crusades against the Cathars, a dualist sect of Christianity during the middle ages, while the latter is a tale of The Battle of Passchendaele during World War I told in the view of a soldier. 

While usually seen as the black sheep of the modern Maiden albums, I find it to be the most memorable and having a great balance between the band's musical elements that isn't really seen in many of the band's post-1986 albums. There's a couple songs that aren't as memorable, but for the most part this is Iron Maiden's modern classic in my book. 

Written on MMA (MetalMusicArchives)

See review here: http://www.metalmusicarchives.com/review/dance-of-death/295981