Archive for February, 2012

Album of the Week 08-2012: Orphaned Land – The Never Ending Way Of ORwarriOR

There used to be a time that the best Metal bands in the world were from the United States, Germany, Sweden or England. Today, Israel’s Orphaned Land is probably the best band around in any genre, as their mixture of styles, which include Doom Metal, Death Metal, Progressive Rock/Metal and large doses of traditional Middle Eastern music, transcends any notice of musical boundaries. I can’t express in words how much I love this band. They’re one of the few bands in whose music I can totally lose myself these days. And while previous efforts were ranging from good to stellar, ‘The Never Ending Way Of ORwarriOR’ is the album that definitively made me fall in love with Orphaned Land.

On their magnum opus (so far), Orphaned Land’s music proves to be of equal importance as the general atmosphere the album sets as well as their message of inter-religious harmony. Check out the promo photos to this album for the ultimate example. This makes the album feel as an experience as opposed to just any good album you put on. And although all tracks lend themselves to separate spins, I tend to listen to the album as a whole. Any album that is set up so ambitiously is risking to get lost in the sand somewhere, but that’s not the case here: the dynamics retain your attention, the melodies make you sing along – even to the songs in Hebrew, although I don’t speak a single word in that language – and the guitar riffs make your head bang.

Interestingly, the songs derived from traditional Hebrew poems, chants and hymns are always the ones that grab me first. Opening track ‘Sapari’ is catchy and powerful and ‘Olat Ha’tamid’ hypnotizing. What I find especially remarkable is that these melodies work so well as Metal songs. Never are you given the impression that these are songs written centuries ago, it sounds fresh and powerful. And the Hebrew lyrics are really powerful. So are the Arabic Koran texts in ‘Disciples Of The Sacred Oath’.

With an array of styles as wide as on ‘The Never Ending Way Of ORwarriOR’, it could be expected that the musicians involved build upon their instincs and experience. Although there is some truth in that statement, there’s such an unbridled passion in this music as well. It lies within Yossi Sa’aron’s soul gripping guitar solos (‘The Path Part I – Treading Through Darkness’, ‘The Warrior’), Kobi Fahri’s emotional vocal delivery (‘MI?’, ‘Bereft In The Abyss’), the overwhelming Arabic orchestral arrangements (‘Barakah’) and guest singer Shlomit Levi’s intense chants (‘Sapari’, ‘New Jerusalem’). This adds to the experience as it’s not only musically proficient, but also beautiful.

In addition, Porcupine Tree main man Steven Wilson’s flawless mix is probably what gave ‘The Never Ending Way Of ORwarriOR’ just that little extra the band needed to make this album even better than its already near-flawless predecessor ‘Mabool’. Every instrument is mixed in clearly and litterally nothing seems out of place, even in the largely arranged songs. The rough edges the band had in their early days have now vanished and frankly, it’s all for the better.

Every fan of music should hear this album one day or another. It’s one of those “albums you must hear before you die”, but it won’t show up in any lists or books that Rolling Stone or NME give you to that extent. In that case, just take my word for it. This is brilliant, border denying – not crossing, it just denies their existence – music with a passion that many Pop musicians can’t even dream of. I am very careful about calling albums perfect, but I have litterally nothing to complain about for this one and isn’t that the definition of perfect? ‘The Never Ending Way Of ORwarriOR’ is the best album of the last decade.

Recommended tracks: ‘Sapari’, ‘The Path Part 1 – Treading Through Darkness’, ‘Olat Ha’tamid’, ‘Barakah’, ‘From Broken Vessels’

Album of the week 07-2012: Sadus – A Vision Of Misery

Interviewing Metal bassist extraordinaire Steve DiGiorgio last week made me reach back to the back catalog of his first band Sadus. And if there’s one particular album that receives a regular spin here, it’s their third album ‘A Vision Of Misery’. Of course, the viciously Thrashing hyper speed predecessors ‘Illusions’ and especially ‘Swallowed In Black’ are mind blowing Thrash albums in their own right, but this is where the Californians truly rose above the average. And not just DiGiorgio, all of them.

However, due to the slightly lower tempos on this album, I do think this is the first ever album where DiGiorgio really shines. He prove his qualities as an unconventional bass player on the previous two albums already, but what he plays here transcends any notion of what a bass player in Thrash Metal should sound like. Often taking on melodies outside of the rhythm and even when playing the supportive role, mixed in much more prominently than on any other Thrash album at the time, this is most likely the album that opened up many doors for Steve DiGiorgio. His tenure alongside my hero Chuck Schuldiner in Death to mention one.

Let’s not forget the other Sadudes though. Darren Travis and Rob Moore are a guitar duo that are probably even tighter an more precise than Slayer and Exodus were notorious for at often even higher tempos and those tempos are always expertly kept by Jon Allen, a better drummer than many much more lauded contemporaries. In addition, Travis’ vocals may sound less frenzied than on the previous efforts, but every bit as powerful and so fucking scary that it’s possibly nightmare inducing sometimes.

Although there’s only two years between ‘Swallowed In Black’ and ‘A Vision Of Misery’, the progression the band has made suggests a much longer interval. Previous efforts at slightly more progressive songs have been relatively successful, but the way the band moves into full-on progressive Thrash with ‘Facelift’, ‘Deceptive Perceptions’ and closing track ‘Echoes Of Forever’ is unbelievable. Or even the still relatively straightforward raging of opening track ‘Through The Eyes Of Greed’. The songs have stronger structures, there’s a build-up in tension that never lets your attention fade and despite every member being an expert at their instruments, the musicianship never gets in the way of the actual songs and – sometimes forgotten in technical Thrash – the hungry aggression.

For a healthy dose of variation, there are songs like ‘Valley Of Dry Bones’, ‘Machines’ and ‘Under The Knife’, which retain the level of aggression displayed on ‘Swallowed In Black’, yet in a slightly more intelligent matter. In other words, this album is sure to please the old school headbanger, but also will inspire the guy that likes the boundless viciousness of Thrash Metal, but longs for something unique and different, like yours truly does.

Despite Steve DiGiorgio’s busy schedule, Sadus is still in existence today, albeit as a trio; Rob Moore has since left the band. They continue to make quality open minded Thrash albums, but nowhere more than ‘A Vision Of Misery’ have they found a perfect balance between speed, aggression, technicality and mature songwriting. As such, ‘A Vision Of Misery’ is the ultimate proof that musically maturing doesn’t necessarily have a boring result. Now be amazed and rage!

Recommended tracks: ‘Through The Eyes Of Greed’, ‘Valley Of Dry Bones’, ‘Echoes Of Forever’, ‘Slave To Misery’, ‘Facelift’

Album of the week 06-2012: Malevolent Creation – The Ten Commandments

Death Metal for comfort. That’s what Malevolent Creation has always been to me. At least as powerful as chocolate or ice cream when love sick, better than sports when there’s too much energy I need to unleash and not as punishable by law as smashing someone’s face in when angry. Where many Death Metal bands are wasting all their effort on being as heavy as possible, the Bret Hoffman-fronted incarnations of Malevolent Creation are almost a form of extreme Thrash Metal in their unbridled aggression, not miles away from what Possessed was doing before, just much tighter and more precise.

Prior to debut album ‘The Ten Commandments’, the Buffalo-bred band moved to Florida to join the blossoming Death Metal scene which obviously influenced them. Of course, the Dan Seagrave artwork and awesome, powerful Scott Burns production that most Floridian DM bands at the time carried only add to that. But Malevolent Creation wasn’t only the sludgy gore of Obituary or the hyperspeed blasting of Morbid Angel – in fact, there are hardly any blastbeats on ‘The Ten Commandments’ – they were first and foremost the riff based thrashing of Slayer and the riff multitude of Kreator. That is the most important quality of ‘The Ten Commandments’; it’s chock full of killer Thrash riffs.

Then there’s one line that connects the dots of every Malevolent Creation album I like and his name is Bret Hoffman. Located somewhere between a traditional death grunt and a primitive Thrash bark with the occasional tortured gnarl, he is one of the very few non-clean singers that can lift a Metal song to a higher level for me. His tone on ‘The Ten Commandments’ is a little less guttural than usual, but twice as aggressive. This combined with Phil Fasciana’s punishing riffs and great guitar tone guarantees a vicious and enjoyable listening experience.

Personally, I tend to think of this album as a little more riff-based than the rest of Malevolent Creation’s output. There are relatively little guitar solos present; the almighty guitar riff is definitely what drives this album forward. All the other instruments often make place for the new guitar riffs to be introduced, but also augment them when needed. Mark Simpson’s rapidly galloping Thrash polkas in songs like ‘Injected Sufferage’ or the neck breaking namesake of the band or the way breaks are used to powerful effect in songs like ‘Remnants Of Withered Decay’, it all seems to be in service of the riffs. And no matter how fast it goes (‘Sacrificial Annihilation’ anyone?), all remains tight and precise.

While Malevolent Creation continued to release quality Death Metal albums – ‘Retribtion’, ‘The Fine Art Of Murder’, ‘Invidious Dominion’ and especially ‘Envenomed’ spring to mind – it is the Thrashing intensity of ‘The Ten Commandments’ that holds a special place in my heart. Most of the Death Metal I listen to is the thinking man’s Death Metal like Chuck Schuldiner’s downright brilliant Death, but sometimes you just don’t want to think. You just want to rage. When you do, ‘The Ten Commandments’ is just what you need.

Recommended tracks: ‘Malevolent Creation’, ‘Sacrificial Annihilation’, ‘Thou Shall Kill!’, ‘Remnants Of Shattered Decay’, ‘Injeced Sufferage’

Album of the week 05-2012: Trapeze – You Are The Music…We’re Just The Band

Besides having possibly the best album title ever, Trapeze’s third album ‘You Are The Music…We’re Just The Band’ is in many ways the perfect illustration of why I consider the glorious seventies the best musical decade ever. The way it blends British Hardrock, Soul and Funk with a dry, organic production that fits the exciting music perfectly is something that couldn’t have come out of any other decade. And no other band did this crossover with an appeal that was anywhere close as Trapeze’s.

By the time ‘You Are The Music…’ was released, Trapeze was already a road seasoned band. After slimming the band down to a trio following the debut album, the Brits released the powerful ‘Medusa’ album and did remarkably well in America, where they toured extensively. All the energy and musical togetherness made ‘You Are The Music…’ their magnum opus and though all the band members would all end up in more popular bands – guitarist Mel Galley in Whitesnake, drummer Dave Holland in Judas Priest and my favorite singer/bassist of all time Glenn Hughes in Deep Purple – a highlight, possibly even the highlight, in their individual discographies.

‘You Are The Music…’ shows the band doing what they do best in many ways. ‘Keepin’ Time’ and the title track are prime examples of British seventies Hardrock, ‘Coast To Coast’ is a brilliant soulful ballad sung expertly (of course) by Hughes, who would revisit the song many, many times during his solo carreer, ‘What Is A Woman’s Role’ shows Trapeze trying their hands at traditional Soul and ‘Way Back To The Bone’ is an irresistable vamp that is so incredibly funky, that it’s almost impossible to believe we’re dealing with white musicians here.

Looking at the individual performances of the members here, it almost seems like they’ve outdone themselves. The dynamic, dancable grooves of Dave Holland are miles away from the incredibly dull drumming he decorated Judas Priest’s eighties records with, Mel Galley is firing on all cylinders and Glenn Hughes…well…what can I say that I haven’t said before? The man is simply a brilliant, powerful singer and shows all of his strengths on this album. Just check how he switches from introspective to over the top in ‘Keepin’ Time’ or how lovingly soulful he sounds in ‘Coast To Coast’. Also, that raw tone in the chorus of title track is amazing. But let’s not forget his brilliant bass playing; the way Galley and Hughes fill the spaces they have left each other in ‘Way Back To The Bone’ is just amazing.

There’s no excuse to not listen to ‘You Are The Music…We’re Just The Band’. Even if you’re just casually into Rock, Soul and Funk, this will be an album of your liking and even in its own time, it was nowhere near as popular as it should have been. Today, fourty years later, the album has lost none of its initial appeal and Hughes must have realized that, playing many of the songs live for a special Trapeze set on his recent DVD ‘Live In Wolverhampton’. ‘You Are The Music…We’re Just The Band’ belongs in the collection of anyone who thinks he or she is in fact the music.

Recommended tracks: ‘Way Back To The Bone’, ‘What Is A Woman’s Role’, ‘Keepin’ Time’, ‘Coast To Coast’