Archive for September, 2013

Album of the Week 39-2013: Kırmızı – İsyan

Traveling to Istanbul last week didn’t only mean that I finally got to see Pentagram live, it also meant a trip to many, many CD stores in what I consider to be my promised land musically. Of the many albums I bought, the one that stood out most was a recommendation from my friend Enis of Hammer Müzik. I ended up listening to Kırmızı almost my entire way home. This all-female collective from Istanbul specializes in well-written and quite heavy modern Power Metal with awesome riffs and powerful vocals. It blew me away upon first listen and it still does now, many spins later.

What might even be the best aspect of this album is that it avoids the main pitfall of the genre, being its lack of variation. There are no two songs alike on ‘İsyan’. Okay, so the album is only half an hour long, but you’d be surprised how many incredibly boring half-hour albums there are. Even within the relatively simple compositions, the band works through a variety of rhythms – one of the first things I noticed is that Aslı Polat is the best female Metal drummer I have ever heard – and little decorations like subtle keyboard melodies or short fragments of electronics to keep things interesting.

‘Uyan’ is carried by one of the best riffs I have heard in a long time and its pounding midtempo doesn’t just invite you to headbang, it forces you to. Let’s just say I got surprised looks at the airport. Opening track ‘Çekilin Başımdan’ is the perfect moodsetter for this album and features Turkey’s alternative Metal star Hayko Cepkin on grunts, but it’s lead singer İdil Çağatay’s little scream in the chorus that sends chills down my spine. ‘Azat Et’ is also built upon an amazing guitar riff, underneath which Ecem Otgucuoğlu’s bass just sounds brutal, ‘Kimsin Sen’ is a bit more progressive in its structure and very successful as such, ‘Elveda’ displays a fantastic melodic traditional Heavy Metal riff that is the cause of pure eighties euphoria and ‘Vazgeçmem Asla’ makes sense as a closing track, leaving you with a desire to put the album back on again. It still does.

Performance-wise, everyone is at the top of their game here. İdil Çağatay has a strong throat with just the right amount of grit, Aslı Polat is – as stated before – a mind blowing drummer (that little fill in ‘Uyan’ convinced me definitively), Saba Arat, Burcu Özdereli and (if I understood things correctly) Çağatay deliver a great array of killer guitar riffs and Ecem Otgucuoğlu refuses to be the bass player in the background with her awesome sound and not-so-subtle fingerwork.

It’s hard to point out verbally how everyone who likes Heavy Metal should give Kırmızı a listen. I know it’s going to be hard to find their music outside of Turkey, if only because all the songs are in Turkish, but this is just stuff you need to hear as a Metal fan. This is powerful stuff with a ballsy production. Let’s just say that in the case of ‘İsyan’, I don’t mind getting my ass kicked by a bunch of girls. They kick it harder than I ever could.

Recommended tracks: ‘Uyan’, ‘Elveda’, ‘Kimsin Sen’, ‘Vazgeçmem Asla’

Album of the Week 38-2013: Carcass – Surgical Steel

Comeback records are usually either a stain on a band’s discography or a brilliant revival of the band. Very seldom are comeback records what ‘Surgical Steel’ is: the logical next step in a band’s carreer. Although it’s been twenty years since ‘Heartwork’ came out, it won’t take long to realize the same band is working here. In fact, Colin Richardson’s production job makes the ‘Heartwork’ references even stronger. But even without seeing this as the logical successor to that album, ‘Surgical Steel’ is a highly enjoyable album. Much to my surprise, actually, being a little sceptical if the band was still able to pull off some magic.

Style-wise, ‘Surgical Steel’ probably lies somewhere between Carcass’ last two studio albums ‘Heartwork’ and ‘Swansong’. Even though some of the vicious aggression of parts of ‘Heartwork’ is missing (only opening track ‘Thrasher’s Abattoir’ fittingly contains such aggression), I like the more melodic approach of the band that is especially present on the second half of the record. New kid Dan Wilding – who wasn’t even born yet when Carcass was founded – does an impressive job replacing Ken Owen with a technically more proficient – if less remarkable – performance.

The album’s true hero, however, is Bill Steer. The band’s founding guitarist is all over the album with awesome riffs, fantastic and memorable guitar solos and – always a delight to yours truly – mind-blowing twin guitar leads. And with him being the only guitarist on the album, he even does the unthinkable with recording two vastly different kinds of guitar solos. The bluesy feel that in the past had generally been Michael Amott’s contribution to the lead parts is represented by Steer just as well as the more classically inspired Metal solos. A brilliant move that contributes to some amazing solo duels Steer engages in with himself.

As I’ve said before, ‘Surgical Steel’ is enjoyable in its first half, but really shines on the latter half. The melodic sensibilities and slightly more inventive songwriting accounts for the album’s most enjoyable moments and possibly the best sequence of four songs in Carcass history with ‘Noncompliance To ASTM F 889-12 Standard’, ‘The Granulating Dark Satanic Mills’, album highlight ‘Unfit For Human Consumption’ and ‘316L Grade Surgical Steel’. Don’t look at me, I didn’t make up these titles. All brilliantly written songs with fantastic melody lines, awesome Metal riffs and breathtaking leadwork. And isn’t that why we all like Metal in the first place?

My expectations for ‘Surgical Steel’ weren’t that high, but I think they may have surpassed the expectations of many who did have good hope for it as well. ‘Surgical Steel’ is a festival of great riffing and lead work first and foremost, but Jeff Walker hasn’t sacrificed any of his power and Wilding does a more than commendable job. And with the melodic Death Metal market being far, far beyond the point of saturation, why not have a listen to the people who originated the scene. And then again: listen to the intro track ‘1985’ and tell me that’s not melodic Metal bliss!

Recommended tracks: ‘Unfit For Human Consumption’, ‘Noncompliance To ASTM F 889-12 Standard’, ‘316L Grade Surgical Steel’, ‘1985’

Album of the Week 37-2013: Sly and the Family Stone – Fresh

By the time ‘Fresh’ was recorded, Sly Stone was recording by himself so much, that it’s hard to make out how much of the album is “Sly” and how much of it is “the Family Stone”. However, this knowledge is hardly needed to appreciate this album for what it really is: one of the very best Funk albums ever recorded. It is still built upon shimmering, dark grooves like ‘There’s A Riot Goin’ On’ was, but adapts a slightly more upbeat nature. Mind you, the celebratory nature of ‘Stand!’ is in the past though.

On ‘Fresh’ even moreso than on ‘There’s A Riot Goin’ On’, there’s a notable shift from melody to grooves. Sly’s vocals, the backing vocals and the bass parts by either Rusty Allen or Sly himself – the actual recording details are more or less left in the dark – are most prominently featured in the mix and although there is plenty of room for especially the horns and the keyboard work, it’s these rhythms and vocals that drive the songs. And said songs are simply really good. Maybe not as instantly memorable as ‘Everyday People’, ‘Stand!’ or ‘Family Affair’, but there is some incredible material on here.

You’d have to look no further than the second track on here to find the best Funk song ever written. ‘If You Want Me To Stay’ has everything a Funk song asks for, starting with an absolutely killer bass line. Like any Funk track, it is driven by its infectious rhythm and Sly’s laidback voice gives it an irresistible atmosphere. Simply breathtaking.

‘If You Want Me To Stay’ isn’t the only good song on here though. Opening track ‘In Time’ is probably the most upbeat track on here and has some great instrumental work to one of Sly’s better vocal performances, ‘Frisky’ is as cheeky as the title suggests, ‘Thankful N’ Thoughtful’ works incredibly well as a vamp-turned-song, ‘Keep On Dancin” is a perfect revisiting of ‘Dance To The Music’ for this era, ‘Skin I’m In’ has a fantastic, almost gospel-like release in the chorus and some awesome horn work and closer ‘Babies Makin’ Babies’ serves as a killer introduction to what Parliament would be doing several years later. Unsurprisingly, Parliament-Funkadelic mastermind George Clinton has repeatedly mentioned ‘Fresh’ as one of his all time favorite albums.

Listening to ‘Fresh’ can only lead to the conclusion that Clinton is right. Because Sly kept on remixing and remastering the album until long after the album’s release, several versions exist of ‘Fresh’. There’s much debate over which sounds best – I own the remaster with five alternate mixes that sound a bit more spacious than the original album, something especially ‘Let Me Have It All’ profits from – but the song material stands as it is. This material has stood the test of time incredibly well even four decades after its original release and that is the testament of a truly great album. Obligated for anyone who is into rhythms.

Recommended tracks: ‘If You Want Me To Stay’, ‘Skin I’m In’, ‘In Time’

Album of the Week 36-2013: Ogün Sanlısoy – Ben

After Ogün Sanlısoy left Pentagram, he became fairly popular in his homeland Turkey with mainly acoustic based Pop music. That music wasn’t bad by any means, but it always left wonder what his massively improved voice would sound like with a heavier, more Rock-based backing. ‘Üç’ already gave the electric guitar a more prominent place within the music, but ‘Ben’ is an album that truly shows Sanlısoy as a Hard Rock singer first and foremost. Even the ballads have a distinct eighties Hard Rock vibe. This makes ‘Ben’ Sanlısoy’s finest effort so far.

Of course, ‘Ben’ isn’t just a Rock record like many others. First and foremost, there is a distinct Turkish vibe on this record and that is an aspect I like very much. It’s not even in the lyrics, because there definitely are some songs that could have done well on the American market if they had English lyrics, but Sanlısoy does some vocal acrobatics that would be impossible or at the very least incredibly difficult for western vocalists and the Middle-Eastern strings heard on ‘Bu Ne Biçim Aşk’ and ‘İstanbul Sular Altında’ add an irrestistable Middle-Eastern, mystical vibe to the songs.

Although Sanlısoy himself wrote all the music to the record, I won’t believe that his guitarist Aytek Akçakaya had no influence on what ‘Ben’ sounds like. His guitars – which sound great by the way, they have just the perfect amount of distortion – are all over this record and make the album as much as Sanlısoy’s vocals. It’s his riffwork that makes many of the albums finest rocking moments, such as the mystical ‘Anma Arkadaş’, the awesome title track, the riff rocker ‘Küçük Mafya’ and the modern Metal of ‘Çek’.

The ballads on ‘Ben’ are quite large in number, but they’re quite good. As I’ve already stated, many of them have a heavy eighties Hard Rock ballad atmosphere, but without the huge layer of cheese that made Cinderella and Poison so nauseating. Midway through the album, there are three ballads right after each other, which almost feels like overkill. And granted, it was a daring move by Sanlısoy, but two of them are the best ballads on here; ‘Son Kez’ and ‘Yalnız Gittin’, both excellently written ballads with a very strong build-up. And when the closing salvo of ‘İstanbul Sular Altında’ and the simple, yet very powerful Hard Rockers ‘Gidenlerden’ and ‘Yukarıya Bak’, which are edited like they form a two-parter.

Production-wise, ‘Ben’ is near flawless. I would have doubled Akçakaya’s guitars at some points where it isn’t, but apart from that, this sounds great. Sertan Soğukpinar’s drum sound is one of the best I’ve ever heard on a modern Rock production. All this adds to a very pleasant listening experience. ‘Ben’ is a record that should be heard by any Rock fan worldwide. It’s just a shame it’s so hard to get outside of Turkey.

Recommended tracks: ‘Anma Arkadaş’, ‘Bu Ne Biçim Aşk’, ‘Gidenlerden’

Album of the Week 35-2013: Vista Chino – Peace

With this sort of a half-comeback – several key members of a legendary band reuniting, but another key member missing from the fold – the same questions always arise. In this case: will the reformed version of legendary Stoner Rock band Kyuss (though I personally prefer the term “Desert Rock” the members used themselves) be able to release anything decent now that founding guitarist Josh Homme – who obviously has more lucrative ventures in the shape of Queens Of The Stone Age – isn’t a part of the reunion?

Of course they can! Let’s not forget that original Kyuss drummer Brant Bjork had a great deal of input on his albums with the band. Hell, he wrote ‘Green Machine’, easily my favorite Kyuss song. ‘Gardenia’ is no slouch either. In fact, the material he has written for this album with Homme’s Belgian replacement Bruno Fevery is nothing short of spectacular. Vista Chino sounds exactly like Kyuss. More specifically: like Kyuss’ somewhat more straightforward stuff from Bjork’s era with the band. Fevery’s thick layers of fuzz in his guitar sound make Homme’s absence almost unnoticeable and the icing on the cake is John Garcia, still one of the greatest singers on the planet.

Fevery does a fantastic job here. His impressive work on the Kyuss Lives! tour already proved that he could carry Homme’s parts without much trouble, but his contributions on here are great both in composition and execution. His style is a bit looser than the somewhat more angular playing of Homme and that actually does fit the jam heavy sections of many of these songs (especially bonus tracks ‘Carnation’ and ‘Sunlight At Midnight’) very well. Bjork and bassist Nick Oliveri are clearly comfortable with his style as well.

As said, the songs on ‘Peace’ are comparable with the more straightforward Kyuss repertoire. Even the 13-minute album closer ‘Acidize…The Gambling Moose’ is relatively simple in structure. The song is built upon a couple of monumental riffs that are repeated quite often, yet never bore the listener because of shifting subtleties. My personal favorite would have to be ‘Planets 1&2’, which are almost entirely recorded by Bjork; only the guitars are handled by Fevery and Garcia does the vocals on the second installment. Bjork’s vocals on the first half are surprisingly good as well.

Other highlights include the fantastic opening track ‘Dargona Dragona’, a perfect moodsetter in the sense that it reminds the listener of why these guys were so cool in the first place, and the catchy ‘Adara’, which reminds me of Garcia’s fantastic Hermano a little. Everyone performs wonderfully on the album and Garcia never ceases to blow my mind. Also, the deliberately under-produced sound accounts for a pleasant Desert Rock experience.

There guys really don’t need Homme’s help in order to record a great album. A full-on Kyuss reunion is very unlikely to ever happen, but this is almost as good. This is 75 percent of the original band giving us more than 99 percent of the original quality. And I really can’t see any reason for a Kyuss fan not to like this. Highly recommended to any Rock fan.

Recommended tracks: ‘Planets 1&2’, ‘Dargona Dragona’, ‘Acidize…The Gambling Moose’, ‘Adara’