Archive for February, 2013

Album of the Week 08-2013: Pentagram – Anatolia

While Turkey’s Pentagram never was a band to release the same type of album twice, ‘Anatolia’ was a step forward from their first two efforts. With the arrival of Murat İlkan’s fantastic vocal range, the band shifted from Thrash Metal towards a mid-tempo, somewhat progressive Power Metal sound with a lot of room for influences from their native country. Being a big fan of oriental influences in Heavy Metal, ‘Anatolia’ completely blew my mind the first time I heard it, but even fans of somewhat more “casual” Power Metal should admit that this is a spectacular album.

Part of what makes ‘Anatolia’ so amazing is the focus on the actual songs rather than speed, blazing leads and rolling double bass drums. There are still some hints of the sound heard on the first two albums (‘Welcome The End’, ‘On The Run’), but Hakan Utangaç’s and Demir Demirkan’s riffs on this album are closer to Candlemass than Slayer, the traditional Turkish instruments like the saz, the bendir and the ney were nowhere to be found on the earlier releases and there is a much stronger focus on melody than ever before, no doubt helped by the introduction of a singer who facilitates them to do so.

Regardless of what label you would give Pentagram’s music, the songs speak for themselves. Though the entire hour the album lasts is nothing short of brilliant, there’s some songs that stand out. For instance, there’s the progressive masterpiece ‘Behind The Veil’, of which the opening riff suggests a Thrasher, but it eventually turns into a brilliantly sung, melodic track with a passionate chorus and some fantastic twists. ‘1000 In The Eastland’ is a dark semi-Thrasher and an anti-war statement. ‘Fall Of A Hero’ is a powerful, eighties USPM inspired semi-ballad, ‘Stand To Fall’ and ‘Give Me Something To Kill The Pain’ are somewhat more conventional Hardrock songs that make amazing use of multiple layers of vocals and ‘∞’ is a beautiful acoustic ballad sung in Turkish.

Speaking of the Turkish language, ‘Anatolia’ is where Pentagram first started releasing tracks in Turkish and I tend to like those the most. Case in point: ‘Anatolia’ itself is presented in both English and Turkish here. When listening to it individually, I usually put on the Turkish version. Somehow I like that one better, though both versions are musically identical. Either way, it’s a brilliant song. Also, Pentagram covers the immensely populair Turkish traditional ‘Gündüz Gece’ here. A simply fantastic rendition of a beautiful song.

‘Anatolia’ is the album that made Pentagram (or Mezarkabul, if you want to be strict for any country outside of Turkey) the band they are today. It’s a spectacular, powerful and melodic Heavy Metal album with stellar vocals and a distinct oriental touch. This is a record that makes the best elements of east and west come together and as such is an incredibly enjoyable record. Seriously, you’ll have to hear it to believe it. The time that the best Metal bands were from the US, England, Germany and Scandinavia is over, taking a look at Israel and Turkey may be just as rewarding.

Recommended tracks: ‘Behind The Veil’, ‘1000 In The Eastland’, ‘∞’, ‘Anatolia’

Album of the Week 07-2013: Suffocation – Pinnacle Of Bedlam

With drummer extraordinaire Mike Smith out of the picture, I didn’t quite know what to expect from the new Suffocation album. Luckily, Dave Culross was his replacement and ‘Pinnacle Of Bedlam’ turns out to be one of the band’s best efforts, easily their best since ‘Souls To Deny’. Everything that made Suffocation so brilliant on albums like ‘Effigy Of The Forgotten’ and ‘Pierced From Within’ is present here: the unpredictable song patterns, the top-notch musicianship, the vicious high-speed riffs and just a bunch of extremely well-written Death Metal tracks.

Many contemporary Death Metal records annoy the hell out of me because of their obsessed focus on either groove or technicality. Suffocation seemed to fall into that trap as well with ‘Blood Oath’, but the aggression lacking from that record is more than made up for on ‘Pinnacle Of Bedlam’. Gone are the song length breakdowns and back is the unbridled aggression. That much was already clear when ‘As Grace Descends’ first surfaced; all the Suffocation trademarks were there, but there was more room for the Thrash riffs and rhythms than there have been for a while in Suffocation’s music. And I welcome them back.

Culross does a more than decent job replacing Mike Smith. While his blastbeats aren’t quite as loud as Smith’s – no one’s are – he fits with Suffocation’s sound perfectly. He doesn’t stick to one drumming pattern for too long, which is a delight to me, as my ears get tired of constant blasting. Representing all the shifts and changes in Suffocation’s songs isn’t for anyone and frankly, I think that only Smith and Culross would be able to pull it off currently. Culross even does a couple of amazingly placed ghost notes in the intro of the fantastic ‘Purgatorial Punishment’, which has a lot happening for the less than three minutes it lasts. Smith does make a guest appearance on the traditional remake of a ‘Breeding The Spawn’ song. This time it’s ‘Beginning Of Sorrow’.

The others do a fantastic job too. Terrance Hobbs’ and Guy Marchais’ solos are remarkably melodic for the type of brutal Death Metal they’re playing. Many bands in the genre rely on the Slayer-style whammy bar stuff and wouldn’t even try their hand at the amazing solo section of the album’s title track. Both Hobbs and Marchais do a brilliant melodic solo over this monumental riff of arpeggiated chords. There’s some great sweeping involved in many of the songs. Derek Boyer has a right hand that many a bassist would be jealous of, but his main merit for this album would be his lyric writing.

One song I would especially like to point out is the mindblowing ‘Sullen Days’. I haven’t been this impressed by a single Suffocation song since ‘Demise Of The Clone’. Not unlike that track, ‘Sullen Days’ is based on what seems like endlessly repeating cycles of a very, very long riff. That riff in ‘Sullen Days’ doesn’t sound like anything the band has ever done before. There’s a brutal faster part in the middle, but what really tops this off is the beautiful, yet ominous clean guitar part that opens and closes the song. Closest Suffocation ever came to a ballad, if you don’t count the deranged “romanticism” of ‘Entrails Of You’.

‘Pinnacle Of Bedlam’ exceeded every expectation I could possibly have of the album. Suffocation was always miles ahead of their brutal Death Metal competition, but this album truly consolidates their position at the very top of Death Metal. As a nice bonus, you get an amazing album cover and – if you buy the limited edition – a very entertaining “making of” documentary. But even without all those extras, ‘Pinnacle Of Bedlam’ serves as the aggressive, grooving and technical standard for Death Metal these days.

Recommended tracks: ‘Sullen Days’, ‘Purgatorial Punishment’, ‘Pinnacle Of Bedlam’, ‘My Demise’

Album of the Week 06-2013: Cloven Hoof – A Sultan’s Ransom

Spectacular US Power Metal from the UK. It’s a reality. Cloven Hoof already carved their name in the annals of the darker side of NWOBHM with their fantastic self-titled debut in 1984, but what the band did in the late eighties on ‘Dominator’ and especially ‘A Sultan’s Ransom’ with the amazing lead vocals of Russ North is downright breathtaking. This is classy, epic Power Metal that is high on melody and quite obviously a product of the eighties, but that is hardly ever a problem when it comes to Metal.

Closer in style to the more melodic of the American Power Metal bands of the time – maybe a slightly more progressive take on what Leatherwolf was doing at the time would be a good reference – it seems that bassist and main songwriter Lee Payne really found his niche here. Part of that is the musicians he’s working with. This really wouldn’t have worked with the raw vocals that Dave Potter provided on their debut; Russ North’s semi-operatic and somewhat theatrical tenor suits the general atmosphere on this album very well and guitarist Andy Wood is able like no other to display both fireworks and restraint when the compositions ask for it. Session man Paul Hodgson’s keyboards are a subtle, but indispensible touch that add to the epic feel as well as the eighties gloss of the album.

There are quite a lot of highlights on ‘A Sultan’s Ransom’, but if I were to name one specific track to start with, it would be opening track ‘Astral Rider’. The song just sums up the album perfectly. Loads of changes in rhythm and mood to make every section stand out, North’s fantastic vocals (double layered in the amazing chorus!), subtly atsompheric keyboards and blazing guitar work. This really sets the scene for the album and – as we say in Dutch – it tastes like more.

Being a big fan of ‘One Thousand And One Nights’,  it’s always a pro when bands I like tackle the fantastic frame story of queen Sheherazade. Cloven Hoof’s ‘1001 Nights’ is no exception. It’s clearly the most progressive song of the album with the most abrupt changes, although closing track ‘Mistress Of The Forest’ – a fantastic song, although I have trouble getting over the fake harpsichord in the intro – and the outcast anthem ‘Notre Dame’ come close. ‘D.V.R.’ is, quite appropriately, a faster track, while not quite touching Thrash, and the midtempo ‘Jekyll And Hyde’ is, despite its cliché-ridden subject matter, a very well-written tune as well.

Procution-wise, ‘A Sultan’s Ransom’ as all the sheen and gloss of an eighties Power Metal record and as such, is a success sound-wise. However, the sound could have used a little more bottom, making the album somewhat unpleasant to listen to on headphones. Spectacular otherwise.

Miles away from the occult NWOBHM stylings of their debut, Cloven Hoof struck gold with ‘A Sultan’s Ransom’. The album may appear somewhat dated to some people, but to yours truly, this is timeless music. Anyone with a love for eighties American Power Metal should give ‘A Sultan’s Ransom’ a listen and enjoy the vibe.

Recommended tracks: ‘Astral Rider’, ‘1001 Nights’, ‘Forgotten Heroes’

Another Gitarist, another case of “loads of interesting stuff”

Actually, this one has been in stores for about a week and a half now, but I didn’t get around to informing you, due to being extremely busy. Not that this one isn’t interesting: there’s a Shred special, there’s a lengthy feature on Django Reinhardt, there’s a review on yet another ridiculously beautiful Teye guitar – the Gypsy Queen this time – and loads of more interesting stuff.

As for the other interesting stuff, I wrote a few of the articles. There’s a short news message on the Fernandes Vortex Scimitar, a new twelve string V model guitar developed with Melechesh frontman Ashmedi. He enlightened me on the model some time ago and I hope to try one out soon. Also, I spoke with guitarist Peter Visser of the legendary Bettie Serveert about the recordings of their fantastic new album ‘Oh, Mayhem!’ and to top it off, I reviewed the album for this issue as well. I don’t want to reveal too much, but Peter told me an interesting story of the second hand guitar he recorded the album with. In addition, an interview with guitarist Louis Inghels and my good friend bassist Chris Dekker of Rock band The La La Lies is included. Be sure to check their album ‘Pretty Tales And Promises’ if you haven’t already and absorb the majesty of northern Holland.

There’s a lot of other interesting stuff waiting to be issued, so I’ll get back to you on that soon!

Album of the Week 05-2013: Crystal Viper – The Curse Of Crystal Viper

There’s hardly anything better than the Heavy Metal from the time before there was the ridiculous amount of subgenres it has today. It was the time before death grunts and breakdowns. Poland’s Crystal Viper isn’t from that era, but on their fantastic debut album ‘The Curse Of Crystal Viper’ they sound like they are. This is classy, early eighties Heavy Metal with maybe a hint of Power Metal at times due to its frenzied pace. And at the helm are the powerful vocals of Marta Gabriel, who is also responsible for writing all the music. A winning combination.

Nostalgic? Maybe. But this is a good album based on the fantastic compositions and the entusiasm with which the material is executed, not its old school sound. There’s powerful drums courtesy of Tomasz Dańczak, spectacular guitar work – both rhythm and lead – by Andy Wave, Tommy Roxx’ bass is actually audible and his playing is inventive and Gabriel’s vocals are the icing on the cake. Her strong accent may sometimes distract from the fact, but she’s a very good singer with a lot of power in both her mid- and high range, which comes across very well on the album. You’ll only have to hear to how her vocals build up in ‘The Last Axeman’ to hear how good she is.

After a somewhat cheesy spoken intro – yes, it’s a fantasy-based concept album – the first riff to ‘Night Prowler’ kicks in and that immediately makes all the Heavy Metal euphoria meters go in the red. Highly reminiscent of the NWOBHM of the late seventies and early eighties with its adrenalin-rising riffs and chorus that invites to pound your fist in the air and sing along. And it stays like that for the entire album. Not that the album is without any variation; both ‘Demons’ Dagger’ and ‘Sleeping Swords’ – which spots a bass intro that sounds a lot like Iron Maiden’s ‘Remember Tomorrow’ – are epic power ballads, ‘Island Of The Silver Skull’ is a midtempo stomper and ‘The Fury (Undead)’ has a slightly progressive twist. However, yours truly has a slight preference for the speedier first half, with absolute top notch Heavy Metal tracks like ‘City Of The Damned’, ‘Shadows On The Horizon’ and the aforementioned ‘Night Prowler’ and ‘The Last Axeman’.

The 2012 re-release of ‘The Curse Of Crystal Viper’ contains a downright fantastic cover of Manilla Road’s brilliant ‘Flaming Metal Systems’, a Polish version of ‘The Last Axeman’, which I seem to play a lot more than the orignal, new versions of ‘Demons’ Dagger’ and ‘Sleeping Swords’ that add a little theatricality to the originals and a decent cover of Warlock’s ‘Mr. Gold’ which is sonically notably inferior to the rest of the album.

Crystal Viper would gradually move into a more Power Metal direction after this album. Not bad at all, but nowhere near as mindblowing as the old school Heavy Metal heard on ‘The Curse Of Crystal Viper’. An album that brings you back to better days, whilst not forgetting that about three decades have passed since then. It’s too bad no venue in Holland has had the balls to book this fantastic band yet, I’d be there!

Recommended tracks: ‘Night Prowler’, ‘City Of The Damned’, ‘Shadows On The Horizon’, ‘The Fury (Undead)’