Album of the Week 07-2017: Dool – Here Now, There Then

‘Listen Without Prejudice’ may have been the meaningful title of George Michael’s second solo album, in some reversed kind of way, the phrase also applies to Dool’s debut album ‘Here Now, There Then’. Singer and guitarist Ryanne van Dorst will be known to most Dutch music fan for the punky rock ‘n’ roll she made under the pseudonym Elle Bandita, but I sincerely doubt if anyone familiar with her earlier work would have expected something like ‘Here Now, There Then’: a dark, bleak, unsettling, brooding and ultimately downright beautiful rock album with an atmosphere that is guaranteed to absorb you completely.

First single ‘Oweynagat’ blew me away when it was released a couple of months ago, but nothing could have prepared me for this masterpiece of a debut album. Monolithic riffs, haunting vocal harmonies, pounding drums and chiming atmospheric guitar parts are all over the record. It helps that the band makes full use of the fact that they have three guitarists – Van Dorst, Nick Polak and Reinier Vermeulen – and the rhythm section is highly versatile. Drummer Micha Haring moves from brute doom metal hammering to more swinging rock rhythms with incredible ease and the fact that the song material requires him too is one of the album’s greatest assets.

As versatile as the record is, the atmosphere is consistently dark and reminiscent of early goth rock and post punk bands like The Sisters Of Mercy, Bauhaus and early Killing Joke. The massive doom metal atmosphere of opening track ‘Vantablack’ certainly is the bleakest beginning of a record I’ve heard in a long time. But it’s exactly that feel that makes it beautiful. It takes you in and won’t let you go until it’s over. In a way, the track is more than just an opening track, it’s an opening statement.

Even though that doom metal sound doesn’t reappear until the brilliant ‘The Alpha’, Dool delivers when it comes to every type of dark rock music they attempt. The aforementioned ‘Oweynagat’ shines due to its vocal harmonies, the dynamic drum work and its amazing chorus, closing track ‘She-Goat’ has an incredible build-up towards its climax, the seventies-ish ‘Golden Serpents’ is full of beautiful guitar parts – including a fantastic twin solo at the end – and ‘In Her Darkest Hour’ gallops along below its awesome riffs very nicely until it hits some unpredictable rhythms in its chorus. ‘The Death Of Love’ is a little more subtle, but no less impressive and highly dynamic.

It’s been a while since I was impressed this much by a debut album, but it’s a fact that Dool produced a remarkable piece of art with ‘Here Now, There Then’. This is a record that is so strong in the message and the atmosphere it’s trying to get across that it’s almost impossible to not feel it. Combined with the musical craftsmanship within its lineup and Van Dorst’s excellent compositions, there is very little reason left not to check this downright mindblowing album out. It may be a little dark, but don’t let that keep you from missing out on what may just be the best debut of the year.

Recommended tracks: ‘Oweynagat’, ‘The Alpha’, ‘Vantablack’

Album of the Week 06-2017: OverKill – The Grinding Wheel

As legendary as earlier OverKill albums like ‘Horrorscope’, ‘The Years Of Decay’ and debut album ‘Feel The Fire’ have become, it’s a fact that even in the 21st century, New Jersey’s finest has released some quality material. That’s why a new OverKill album is always something to look forward to. In fact, recent albums like ‘White Devil Armory’ and especially 2010’s incredible ‘Ironbound’ have increased the thrashing intensity, which in combination with their punkish vigor and relentless grooves account for excellent contemporary thrash metal. And while ‘The Grinding Wheel’ doesn’t quite reach that level, it’s another worthy addition to the band’s discography.

Initially, I was a bit underwhelmed by the first tracks that surfaced. While I really like the chorus of first single ‘Our Finest Hour’, the verse riff was lifted note for note from the superior ‘Electric Rattlesnake’ and opening track ‘Mean, Green, Killing Machine’ had an interesting middle section with Bobby ‘Blitz’ Ellsworth’s cleanest vocal performance in years – something he repeats in a few other tunes on the album – but also felt a bit like OverKill going through the motions. While neither are among my favorites, they admittedly make a little more sense within the context of the album.

Especially the second half of the record contains a few gems. ‘Red White And Blue’ for instance, a ripping, hardcore-infused thrasher in the same vein as ‘Pig’ on the previous record. The closing title track is an epic work of art comparable in style and atmosphere to ‘In The Name’ and the classic ‘Gasoline Dream’. That gothic doom-like outro is unlike anything OverKill has ever done before. ‘The Wheel’ is another masterpiece; it goes through several distinct movements – with especially that brooding verse riff being beyond amazing – without ever feeling disjointed. Three tracks that end the album on a great note.

But there’s more. ‘The Long Road’ is classic OverKill meets Iron Maiden’s triumphant twin guitar melodies with Dave Linsk – who truly outdoes himself on the entire record – soloing wildly over it. The groovy ‘Come Heavy’ shows the band’s Black Sabbath influences even more obviously than their tendency to switch to something completely different halfway through the songs. Out of the songs with more subdued tempos, ‘Shine On’ takes the cake. Partially because the thrashiness of the riff contrasts wonderfully with the relatively laid-back rhythm. ‘Let’s All Go To Hades’ is the most punky song of the bunch and while I generally prefer the band’s more metal material, the dual lead vocal harmony is excellent.

Some bands are just impossible to slow down. OverKill is one of them. Where many bands that started around the same time – they’ve been around since 1980 – exist solely on nostalgia, OverKill still manages to push themselves to some spirited performances and a few excellent tracks. And even more amazing is the fact that Ellsworth’s voice never manages to lose any of its vicious power. While ‘The Grinding Wheel’ isn’t the latter day masterpiece that ‘Killbox 13’ or ‘Ironbound’ was, it grew on me after a few spins, by which point it was impossible to sit still. Especially to that triple threat at the end of the record.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Grinding Wheel’, ‘Red White And Blue’, ‘The Wheel’

Album of the Week 05-2017: Drive Like Maria – Creator Preserver Destroyer

After their excellent self-titled second album, things went a little quiet around Drive Like Maria. Luckily, the Dutch-Belgian rock trio is still around. They announced the release of three EP’s that would form the new album last year and that album is finally here. And while it retains the band’s eclectic rock sound – the stoner component becoming less prominent with each release – ‘Creator Preserver Destroyer’ has a more streamlined, even somewhat more produced feel than the previous two records, which significantly benefits the catchy and melodic nature of the songs and Bjorn Awouters’ soulful vocals. The result is familiar, yet fresh.

For an album that consists of songs that were originally released on EP’s, ‘Creator Preserver Destroyer’ has a remarkably consistent flow. It helps that more thought went into the track sequencing than just throwing the EP’s tracks on front to back. This way, a nice balance is created between the energetic rock songs and the more subdued material and the whole thing sounds like an album rather than a collection of singles. The great deal of variation also contributes greatly to the album’s replay value; Drive Like Maria once again covers a wide range of emotions in a handful of extremely well-written songs.

That range is one of the biggest assets of ‘Creator Preserver Destroyer’. If the record was full of pop songs like ‘Taillight’ or ‘I Wonder If It Goes’, there would be a considerable risk that the album would be a boring listen, but because there’s tracks like the heavy opener ‘Nighthawk’, the restrained ‘Sinners’, the dark ballad ‘Will We Ever’ or the upbeat rocker ‘Keeps Me Going’, the album becomes highly dynamic and the songs more or less accentuate each other. Also, the spirited performances elevate the songs above the already high quality of the compositions. Awouters and Nitzan Hoffmann are an excellent guitar duo and his versatility alone already makes Bram van den Berg the best drummer in the Netherlands.

My two favorite tracks on the album appear back to back, like they did on the ‘Creator’ EP. ‘Sonny’ is a melancholic pop rock song with amazing vocals by Awouters and a great build-up towards its dreamy chorus, whilst ‘Tiny Terror’ is more epic in nature and due to its subtle saxophone accents brings to mind the Golden Earring’s early seventies work. The latter shines in the way it slowly becomes more exuberant. ‘Forget’ also feels epic, despite the fact that it’s only 4 minutes long, and ends the album on a very high note.

But really, ‘Creator Preserver Destroyer’ is a really consistent album full of memorable melodies, strong performances and an amount of variation that is not all that common in contemporary rock music. Drive Like Maria never was so loud in its rock excess that they would scare away more casual pop rock listeners, but with this record, I would actually encourage people who aren’t usually into heavy rock to give this a listen. Simply because it’s twelve excellent songs performed really well. I’m very curious to hear how this material will sound in the live environment.

Recommended tracks: ‘Sonny’, ‘Tiny Terror’, ‘Forget’, ‘Will We Ever’

Navarone, Drive Like Maria and more in Gitarist

Those of you who want to know more about the most recent Album of the Week, but prefer to get their information from the musicians involved should look no further than this month’s issue of Gitarist. I didn’t just interview Navarone’s guitarists, but the entire band about the creation of ‘Oscillation’. It’s a special album that deserves a lot of attention from everyone. Also, I spoke extensively with Drive Like Maria’s Nitzan Hoffmann about their new album ‘Creator Preserver Destroyer’, another great rock album from the Benelux. I can only say that the year has started out great in that respect.

Furthermore, we have interviews with Eric Johnson about his new acoustic record and new blues prodigy Aaron Keylock. There’s a big feature about mini pedals and we have loads of gear and cd reviews. I can’t see a reason not to rush to the store and buy it unless you already have a subscription.

Album of the Week 04-2017: Navarone – Oscillation

When you listen to ‘Oscillation’ for the first time, you’ll immediately notice something has changed. The music is still instantly recognizable as Navarone; the big, beefy hardrock riffs are still there and Merijn van Haren’s magnificent voice hasn’t lost any of its force, but in terms of production, ‘Oscillation’ is a whole different beast than its two predecessors. As a result, the separate songs sound a little more streamlined, but the scope and variation that made Navarone’s previous records so great are also still here. And so, this fresh record proves that a rock band can expand upon its style without sacrificing its excitement and energy.

In a way, ‘Oscillation’ sounds a little more modern than what the quintet has done before. Navarone always found a nice balance between the relative complexity and riffiness of seventies rock and the directness of nineties rock. This time, some more contemporary influences have been brought to the table. The delightfully catchy ‘Soon I’ll Be Home’ has a very modern, poppy rock vibe, while opening track ‘Snake’ brings some of the stoner rock influences that were always beneath the surface front and center. The climax of the latter also sounds like nothing the band has ever done before, but it’s incredibly powerful.

On a more superficial level, ‘Oscillation’ is a typical Navarone record in the way it moves back and forth between powerful rock tracks and strong ballads with remarkable ease. The former category has the awesome ‘Step By Step’, probably the most “typical” Navarone song on the record, and the relentlessly pounding ‘Lonely Nights’, which is likely the heaviest track the band has recorded yet. ‘Free Together’, ‘Unmistakably Everything’ and closing track ‘Don’t Belong’ are all beautiful, delicate ballads with more acoustic work than the band has yet used and a more interesting approach than the well-known calm verse, big chorus contrast, which truly enhances the songs.

But most notable are the songs that don’t fit either category. The atmospheric ‘Chrome’ has an acoustic fundament, but is hardly a ballad. Progressive acoustic rock? Maybe. The song works its way through several distinctive movements that shouldn’t work together, but miraculously do. ‘Shadow’ is a little darker and has a psychedelic middle section somewhat reminiscent of ‘Sage’ from the debut album. However, the real winner here is the mindblowing ‘Days Of Yore’. From its monumental opening riff to Kees Lewiszong’s amazing blues solo, the song is a masterpiece that brings to mind Led Zeppelin’s ‘Tea For One’. The verses are very minimalistic, but serve as a perfect vehicle for Van Haren’s incredible voice. This is a song that needs to be heard to be believed.

The cliché is that when rock bands mature, their sound becomes calmer and more interesting. ‘Oscillation’ proves that this doesn’t have to be the case. In fact, Navarone seems to have been exploring the extremes of their sound here, which makes the record heavier, more progressive, more melodic and more accessible all at the same time. It may need a little more time to sink in than the band’s previous two records, but once it does, you’ll realize that they have made another masterpiece. Their third in a row. And if that’s not impressive, I don’t know what is.

Recommended tracks: ‘Days Of Yore’, ‘Soon I’ll Be Home’, ‘Lonely Nights’

A Song For A Day: ‘Back Home’

First of all, I would like to apologize for the lack of an album of the week review last Sunday. I don’t want to make a habit out of it, but a medical emergency prevented me quite harshly from doing so. I would have made up for it a day later, but it all took a little longer than expected and by the time I did get home, it didn’t make much sense anymore. A song for a day did seem appropriate because I’ve never felt the words “it’s always good to be back home” so strong. Further explanation doesn’t strike me as necessary.

Oh for those who wonder… The fact that this band is from the town where I spent the first ten years of my life isn’t relevant in this case!

Album of the Week 02-2017: Firewind – Immortals

Due to the band members being busy with other projects, Firewind has been a little dormant the last couple of years, but luckily there is a new album. And not just any album, it’s the first metal highlight of 2017. Everything the relatively lackluster ‘Few Against Many’ was missing is here and then some. Maybe the songwriting collaboration with producer Dennis Ward was what Gus G needed or maybe replacing the great former singer Apollo Papathanasio with the downright exceptional Henning Basse is what the band was begging for, but whatever the case, ‘Immortals’ is an exuberant power metal record with some excellent musicianship to boot.

Sometimes a band returns after a while and it just makes sense. ‘Immortals’ is one of those cases. It actually feels like a new chapter in Firewind’s history. Of course the addition of a new singer contributes to that, but there is a freshness to the compositions that greatly adds to the replay value of the album. The interaction between the musicians has a more spontaneous feel than on the last couple of Firewind records and the choruses have a sense of urgency that even their most catchy material didn’t have. Part of that is production, but if a song doesn’t allow for a big chorus, you can’t fabricate it.

‘Hands Of Time’ surfaced a couple of months ago and actually works very well as a mission statement for ‘Immortals’. There’s no long intros, it just blasts straight into full speed in all its melodic, triumphant glory. Henning Basse’s voice is rawer than in his early Metalium days, but fits this brand of power metal extremely well. He handles the calmer work like the lone ballad ‘Lady Of 1000 Sorrows’ equally well as the heavier, more aggressive stuff like ‘Back On The Throne’. On the former, Basse has a distinct early Sebastian Bach vibe to his voice, while the latter is possibly the most thrashy song Firewind has ever done.

‘Immortals’ is a concept album about the Battle of Thermopylae and though I think Greek history themes are overdone in metal, Firewind does get the benefit of the doubt because three of their members are actually Greek. It hardly ever interferes with the music anyway, except for maybe the overlong spoken intro to what is furthermore the album’s highlight: the strong heavy metal stomper ‘Ode To Leonidas’. Other highlights include the powerful closer ‘Rise From The Ashes’, the beautifully epic ‘Live And Die By The Sword’ and the forceful ‘We Defy’.

Firewind is back and that’s a really good thing. In a time when European power metal seems a bit samey, ‘Immortal’ sounds like an album written with the carefree attitude of a youngster and ends up sounding like a combination of the best elements of traditional and contemporary power metal. The result is surprisingly dynamic and simply a very pleasant listen. And take it from someone who has listened to it a lot: it gets better over repeated listens. Let’s just hope that this will just be the beginning of a great year for power metal.

Recommended tracks: ‘Ode To Leonidas’, ‘Rise From The Ashes’, ‘Live And Die By The Sword’