Archive for June, 2013

Album of the Week 26-2013: Queens Of The Stone Age – …Like Clockwork


Queens Of The Stone Age’s mainstream success has always puzzled me. I’m not saying their music isn’t good – au contraire! – but their music isn’t necessarily accessible and Josh Homme is quite obviously the sort of muso yours truly is as well. Having said that, I hope their brand new ‘…Like Clockwork’ will be as successful as ‘Songs For The Deaf’ was over a decade ago, simply because ‘…Like Clockwork’ is quite possibly the best album the band has released yet. It combines the darkness of ‘Lullabies To Paralyze’ with the urgency of the self-titled debut and the eclecticism of their entire discography.

Even though I have always known the band was good, I was quite surprised about the way ‘…Like Clockwork’ turned out. Despite its dark and eclectic nature, the album is probably their most focused yet, which is surprising, given the drummer change in the middle of the recordings and the large array of guest musicians, none of which actually overpower Homme’s vision; would you have noticed Elton John and Mark Lanegan were on this album had you not read it in the credits?

In the end, it doesn’t really matter who is playing on the songs, as long as Homme’s vision is carried out. Sure, I would always love to have John Garcia singing over Homme’s music, but Homme is actually pretty good on this record. He’s never been a great singer, but he comes across very versatile and powerful here. In fact, his fragile approach on both piano ballads (the title track and the fantastic ‘The Vampyre Of Time And Memory’) is nothing less than fantastic. In addition, I doubt if anyone else would be able to match his desperate vocal work on the pitch-black masterpiece that is ‘I Appear Missing’.

As is the case with many Queens Of The Stone Age records, the variation on ‘…Like Clockwork’ is its main merit. Mirroring the epic ‘I Appear Missing’ is the straightforward Rocker ‘My God Is The Sun’ and the brilliant dissonant riffs and desolate atmosphere of album highlight ‘If I Had A Tail’ – which spots the awesome opening line “gitchy gitchy ooh la la, da doo run run” – is contrasted by the sunny California sound of ‘Smooth Sailing’. This keeps the album interesting at all times; those who aren’t sure if they’re going to like the album after the monstrous doom riff of opening track ‘Keep Your Eyes Peeled’ are immediately treated with the lighter, but still powerful Rock of ‘I Sat By The Ocean’.

‘…Like Clockwork’ should have a little something for every fan of Rock music. People frustrated with the fact that there’s not enough of one thing probably never really will understand Queens Of The Stone Age, but I have the idea the band isn’t really concerned about pulling those people in in the first place. The album isn’t by any means the band’s most accessible work, but it definitely includes the focus that ‘Songs For The Deaf’ lacked and that in itself deserves an audience at least the same size as for that record.

Recommended tracks: ‘If I Had A Tail’, ‘I Appear Missing’, ‘I Sat By The Ocean’, ‘My God Is The Sun’

Judging Adversaries: Queensrÿche


Who’s on trial?

Seattle’s Queensrÿche once was the number one progressive Metal band on the planet. With Geoff Tate’s high wails, their unpredictable song structure, Scott Rockenfield’s unconventional rhythms and the heavy riffs and soaring twin melodies of Michael Wilton and Chris DeGarmo made ‘The Warning’ and ‘Operation: Mindcrime’ timeless classics in the field of progressive Metal.

However, with the release of the overrated hack known as ‘Empire’, the band ditched all Metal and everything released after the following masterpiece ‘Promised Land’ isn’t all that progressive anymore either. Modern Rock music which was low on both inspiration and direction gradually took over Queensrÿche’s albums. The temporary return of the departed DeGarmo resulted in one more decent album (‘Tribe’), followed by a couple of true atrocities, including a less than satisfactory sequel to ‘Operation: Mindcrime’.

In what only can be described as an embarrassing soap series of events best documented elsewhere, Tate and the rest of Queensrÿche separated. The direct result of that is the release of two new albums bearing the name Queensrÿche recorded by two completely different groups of musicians. Tate and a wide array of guest musicians are heard on ‘Frequency Unknown’, while Wilton, Rockenfield, founding bassist Eddie Jackson, guitarist Parker Lundgren and new singer Todd LaTorre recorded ‘Queensrÿche’.

Evidence

Tate’s ‘Frequency Unknown’ was the first album to be released. If the not so subtle album cover didn’t give it away, the lyrics will tell you that Tate is extremely dissatisfied with what happened. The downtuned and extremely heavy rhythm guitars courtesy of Forbidden axeman Craig Locicero – who isn’t an official member of Tate’s Queensrÿche lineup, but is the most important musician next to Tate on the album – accentuate that dissatisfaction.

Although the lack of a set lineup doesn’t exactly contribute to a consistent record, my inital reaction to ‘Frequency Unknown’ was one of pleasant surprise. Part of that is opening track ‘Cold’, which is without any doubt the best track Tate has done in many years. Melodic vocally, heavy guitar-wise and with a great chorus, this was above my expectations. Sadly, that level isn’t reached again until the epic closing track ‘The Weight Of The World’, which spots a mind blowing Chris Poland guitar solo. The album does have a few decent tracks however (‘Life Without You’, ‘In The Hands Of God’), which makes this album the best album with Tate’s involvement since ‘Tribe’, despite its juvenile lyrics and the borderline embarrassing remakes of classic Queensrÿche tracks.

Wilton, Jackson, Rockenfield and Lundgren teamed up with Tate-soundalike Todd LaTorre, who did a commendable job replacing Midnight in Crimson Glory. Their first release remained untitled. Not a very smart move business-wise, since the fantastic first EP has no title either, but it does fit the band’s rebirth if you will. The main difference in atmosphere is that ‘Queensrÿche’ seems to celebrate the relief of a new beginning, where ‘Frequency Unknown’ appears to be a bitter look on what happened.

‘Queensrÿche’ is actually a good album. It’s obvious the album was rushed, as evidenced by its limited length, but the album contains a couple of really good songs. Initially, it took me a couple of minutes to get into the album, but opening track ‘Where Dreams Go To Die’ is a slow burner. This is what Queensrÿche was about before their identity crisis. The melodic Heavy Metal is present in tracks like ‘Spore’, ‘Don’t Look Back’, ‘Vindication’ and the awesome ‘Fallout’, whereas the progressive side is represented by ‘A World Without’, ‘Open Road’ and the fantastic ‘In This Light’. ‘Redemption’, ironically the first track to surface, is the only less impressive moment on the album.

The verdict

Though ‘Queensrÿche’ isn’t yet the grand return to what Queensrÿche used to be, it’s an album that offers hope for a great future. LaTorre is more than able to fill Tate’s shoes – check out the bonus live tracks on the limited edition for the ultimate proof – and I hope that in a few years we can look back on ‘Queensrÿche’ as the record released to see if people would still be into Queensrÿche at their best. ‘Frequency Unknown’ was definitely exceeding my expectations, but doesn’t by far have the replay value that ‘Queensrÿche’ has.

It’s not my position to decide who is the rightful owner to the Queensrÿche name, but the album battle has been won by Wilton, Jackson and Rockenfield. That is the version of the band I would like to see live. It’s not yet album-of-the-year material, but it does show the first steps toward something that might just be that good.

Satriani interview in Gitarist


With the new issue of Gitarist coming up shortly, I am a bit late with this post, which is also why I’m keeping it short, but you can all read the interview I had with Joe Satriani about his new album ‘Unstoppable Momentum’ in Gitarist now. My interview has been paired with a complete Satriani workshop with extensive lessons. If you are into melodic shred – let’s face it, ‘Unstoppable Momentum’ is a highly melodic album – this is something that’s not to be missed.

As far as my contributions go, there’s reviews on Bombino (excellent Desert Bluest), Walter Trout (impressive tribute to the great Luther Allison), Danny Bryant (decent Blues Rock), The Monolith Deathcult (bombastic, symphonic, technical Death Metal), Black Star Riders (Thin Lizzy without Phil Lynott), The Selfemployed (alternative Pop/Rock from my region) and Arrow-Haze (amazing versatile Rock from Belgium)

You can expect a new one with even more interesting stuff soon!

Album of the Week 25-2013: Orphaned Land – All Is One


This year, there has been no album I anticipated more than ‘All Is One’. Israel’s Orphaned Land is the best Metal band of the last two decades, ‘Mabool’ was a work of pure brilliance and ‘The Never Ending Way Of ORwarriOR’ simply a masterpiece. ‘All Is One’ was something of a minor surprise though: while still unmistakably Orphaned Land, the band opted for a somewhat more direct and compact approach this time. And while I loved the complex nature of the album’s predecessors, this is another masterpiece worthy of Orphaned Land’s name.

Still firmly intact is Orphaned Land’s infectious melange of progressive Metal and traditional Middle-Eastern music and the bombast present on the previous album is probably even more prominent here, with the Turkish string orchestra and a large choir providing some of the album’s most beautiful moments, but the songs are shorter and somewhat simpler this time. The opening title track, which is very simple in structure, yet incredibly powerful, is the first example of that already. Also, the guitars of Yossi Sassi and newcomer Chen Balbus are a bit more crunchy here and Kobi Fahri has abandoned his death grunt almost entirely (with the notable exception of short bursts on ‘Fail’ and ‘Our Own Messiah’) on this record in favor of his marvellous clean vocals.

All this may have been the change Orphaned Land needed. ‘All Is One’ sounds every bit as inspired as its two incredible predecessors did without blandly rehashing it. Also, the simpler structure may serve the band’s message of respect and harmony among all people populating the Middle-East, which is slightly more direct than before here as well.

However, it’s not like the Israelis became a completely different band here. ‘The Simple Man’ is exactly what we’ve come to expect from the band and contains some of Uri Zelha’s best bass work ever, ‘Let The Truce Be Known’ and ‘Children’ wouldn’t sound out of place on the final act of this album’s direct predecessor and ‘Through Fire And Water’ is an amazing track that combines Hebrew, Arabic and Latin lyrics in a very Middle-Eastern sounding track. Those songs would be the ones I’d recommend fans of the band to check out first. There’s more however: the mind-blowing instrumental ‘Freedom’ may be the album’s best song, Yehuda Poliker composition ‘Shama’im’ is the fantastic Hebrew song and ‘Brother’ most likely the band’s best and most heartfelt ballad so far.

Fans of the band and Middle-Eastern influences in music would do themselves an incredible favor if they’d purchase ‘All Is One’. And if you have the chance, be sure to pick up the limited edition for ‘As I Stare At The Ocean Alone’, a beautiful Yehuda Poliker cover. They played the song in Hebrew with Poliker on their breathtaking DVD ‘The Road To OR-Shalem’. And like ‘Mabool’ and ‘The Never Ending Way Of ORwarriOR’ before this, ‘All Is One’ is another work of art with a message of peace that deserves to be heard by anyone who loves music. In fact, the lack of grunts may make it accessible to even more people. This may just be my album of the year…

Recommended tracks: ‘All Is One’, ‘Freedom’, ‘The Simple Man’, ‘Shama’im’, ‘Brother’

Album of the Week 24-2013: Dark Tranquillity – Construct


If there’s one thing Dark Tranquillity deserves all the praise they can get for, is that they’re not afraid to try something radically different if their sound threatens to become a little stale. ‘Construct’ is one of those moments. It’s still undeniably Dark Tranquillity, but after the one-dimensional letdown that ‘We Are The Void’ was, the music of the Swedes was begging for a different approach. On ‘Construct’, the focus shifted (no pun intended) from riffs to songs and from general heaviness to a desolate atmosphere. A somewhat risky, but ultimately successful move.

‘Construct’ is, in a way, the logical successor to their 1999 masterpiece ‘Projector’. All the Depeche Mode-isms that made that album a surprising departure from their former work are present here and now that the line-up actually has a keyboard player in Martin Brändström, who joined shortly after the recording of ‘Projector’, even more room is granted for the keyboards. What both albums have in common as well, is the number of incredibly well-written songs. ‘We Are The Void’ bothered me for being a collection of samey riffs. ‘Construct’ is a collection of powerful, atmospheric tunes that feature Mikael Stanne both grunting and facilitating his beautiful baritone.

Despite what I just stated, the good riffs aren’t completely gone here. Some of the album’s highlights contain a bunch of great riffs – just listen to the main riff to the amazing ‘Apathetic’ and try not to bang your head to it – but they’re used more servicable to the songs. The guitars of Niklas Sundin and Martin Henriksson work incredibly complementary, sometimes working almost as a canon, sometimes just taking backseat to Brändström’s keyboards and Anders Jivarp’s explosive drum work. None of the instruments is ever taking center stage and the guitar leads are generally melodic themes than solos, but that’s also what makes it work.

Fans of the band that are a little cautious because of the altered sound and want to listen to some songs first would do well to start with ‘The Science Of Noise’ and ‘Apathetic’, as they sound closest to what the band was doing on the amazing record that was ‘Fiction’. The atmospheric edge is already apparent in those though. ‘Uniformity’ is this album’s ‘ThereIn’, in that it was the first video and it features beautiful clean vocals in the chorus and though it doesn’t quite have the tension buildup the latter had, it’s one of the album’s better songs. ‘The Silence in Between’ is sort of a combination of approaches and one of the album highlights and ‘Endtime Hearts’, ‘Weight Of The End’ and  ‘None Becoming’ are the dark growers here.

Those of you who thoroughly enjoyed ‘Projector’ the way that I did would do themselves a favor adding ‘Construct’ to their collection as well. Fact is that ‘Construct’ is a fantastically written and immaculately produced set of songs that deserves to be heard. Every band member is at the top of their game here and that deserves to be heard. Also, Stanne just keeps getting better. Strongly recommended.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Silence In Between’, ‘Apathetic’, ‘Endtime Hearts’, ‘Uniformity’

Album of the Week 23-2013: Black Sabbath – 13


Possibly the most anticipated Metal release for this year – with the creators basically having invented the genre – the first Black Sabbath studio album featuring founding guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler and singer Ozzy Osbourne together in 35 years does not disappoint. On what is arguably one of Rick Rubin’s cleanest production jobs ever, the band succeeds in capturing the classic Sabbath sound better than anyone could have expected them to. Not that I didn’t have the faith in Iommi and Butler, but what is on display here is surprisingly good.

Depending on your viewpoint, the biggest merit of this album can also be seen as a flaw. ’13’ sounds very trusted. This is what Black Sabbath is supposed to sound like with three of the four original guys around – Bill Ward’s drum duties are covered by Rage Against The Machine drummer Brad Wilk – and where the Heaven & Hell record with sadly deceased singer extraordinaire Ronnie James Dio seemed a work of nostalgia mainly, ’13’ is pretty much a relevant album today. Maybe it’s a bit predictable, but this is exactly what people would want to hear from these guys.

The first thing that struck me is how good Ozzy sounds. He’s never been a fantastic singer, of course, but he hasn’t sounded this good on any of his solo records. And that includes the first two. Maybe Rubin is to blame or maybe Butler’s lyrics are simply what makes him sound best, but Ozzy’s spirited performance on ’13’ is the most inspired he’s done since ‘Sabotage’. Iommi will probably keep writing classic riffs until his last breath and the riffs on display here are nothing less than in Sabbath’s glorious seventies heyday, albeit with a much better guitar tone. Butler’s characteristic and not-so-subtle bass tone feels warmly familiar and Wilk does a surprisingly good job stepping in Ward’s shoes.

Opening the album is a massive Iommi riff and from that moment on, there’s really no turning back. While ‘End Of The Beginning’ isn’t the best track of the album in terms of composition, it more than serves its purpose of welcoming the listener back to Black Sabbath. What is to come consists of classic Sabbath riffs, songs and lyrics. The slow to mid-tempo riffs balance between darkness and groove, while Wilk emulates the jazzy nuance of Ward’s earliest work.

‘Age Of Reason’ was the first song that made the hairs on my arms stand up. Its main riff has a haunting quality and the subtle keyboards in the chorus give the whole thing a ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’ vibe. Also, that subtle accelleration in the middle is awesome as is the riff that introduces it. The ending features an amazing solo by Iommi. ‘Damaged Soul’ features the band in a somewhat looser, more bluesy paradigm. The extended jam at the end of the song even has Ozzy blowing some harmonica. ‘Live Forever’ has a mighty opening riff and a driving verse riff that vaguely reminds me of ‘Fairies Wear Boots’ and the brilliant acoustic ‘Zeitgeist’ brings to mind ‘Planet Caravan’. The album ends on a high note with ‘Dear Father’, a haunting tale of vengeance set to a bunch of amazing riffs. And check out that awesome middle section!

Be sure to get the limited edition if you can, because I really don’t get why the uptempo stomper ‘Methademic’ didn’t end up on the regular album. ‘Peace Of Mind’ and ‘Pariah’ are pretty impressive too.

In a way, it’s almost sad that the originators of the genre give all of their disciples a lesson in Heavy Metal four decades after their inception. But this isn’t just a celebration of Black Sabbath’s history, ’13’ is a brilliant record in its own right. It has the riffs, the atmosphere and – I just have to emphasize this again – the absolutely brutal bass tone. We can only hope that this isn’t the last Sabbath record, but even if it is, “Sabbath with Ozzy” finally goes out with a much more impressive band than ‘Never Say Die!’. Recommended to any Metal fan.

Recommended tracks: ‘Dear Father’, ‘Methademic’, ‘Age Of Reason’, ‘Live Forever’

Megadisappointment: ‘Super Collider’


My friend Tyler thought ‘Thirteen’ was a bad album. I disagree. His criticism that the album contained too many reworkings of older songs was justified, but at least there was quite some memorable stuff on the record. ‘Thirteen’ contained at least five songs I really liked. ‘Super Collider’ has one. And a couple I consider somewhat enjoyable. But a good album, this is not. I have no problem with Megadeth playing something closer to Hard Rock than Thrash Metal, but imagine ‘Youthanasia’ or ‘Cryptic Writings’ without the good ideas. That’s what ‘Super Collider’ is.

This album’s title track was the first thing that surfaced from the album and it’s easily one of the worst post ‘Risk’ songs by the band. But then again, Heavy Metal has never really been about the singles, has it? First single ‘Can I Play With Madness’ could never prepare the listener for the unbridled brilliance of Iron Maiden’s ‘Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son’ either. Sadly, ‘Super Collider’ is no ‘Seventh Son’. The songwriting is bland and I can only hope that this is a one-time mistake for Dave Mustaine.

Also, Mustaine was known for his sharp lyric writing in Megadeth’s heyday. Even though I didn’t always necessarily agree with his views, his lyrics had a conviction and an indispensable, clever wit. A lot of the lyrics on ‘Super Collider’ seem to have been written with a rhyming dictionary. The next person who rhymes “fire” with “desire”, I will slap in the face. In addition, it seems that these days, when Mustaine wants to make a point, he starts a spoken part. It’s a feature that dragged down the title track of ‘United Abominations’ six years ago and now mutilates the otherwise decent ‘Dance In The Rain’, which also features a pointless guest appearance by Disturbed frontman David Draiman doing his best to sound as much as Mustaine as possible. ‘Burn!’ is also marred by insipid lyrics and a horrible chorus. The verses are awesome though.

Maybe that’s the most frustrating aspect about ‘Super Collider’. It’s not like Mustaine lost it. Opening track ‘Kingmaker’ is an impressive Heavy Metal tune with a killer riff to boot. ‘Forget To Remember’ is a pretty good melodic Hardrock tune with possibly the best set of lyrics on the album and ‘Off The Edge’ and ‘Built For War’ would have been good with better words.

The album’s production is alright, just a torture to listen to on headphones. It’s got too much treble, accounting for a pretty restless listening experience. Also, closing an album with a cover (even when it’s a Thin Lizzy tune) has never been a good idea. You could try to get the edition with the bonus tracks, but those aren’t all that good either. Especially ‘All I Want’. It’s hard to believe that song has been written by the same man who gave us ‘Hangar 18’, ‘Tornado Of Souls’, ‘Skin O’ My Teeth’ or ‘Trust’.

With this lineup possibly being the strongest the band has had musically, I’m sure they’ll come up with something better after this. I’ll just listen to ‘Rust In Peace’, ‘Countdown To Extinction’, ‘Cryptic Writings’, ‘Endgame’ or ‘The System Has Failed’ in the meantime.

Recommended track: ‘Kingmaker’