Archive for April, 2014

Album of the Week 17-2014: Beth Hart – Bang Bang Boom Boom

Listening to mainstream radio suggests that there are hardly any good female solo artsits left. Luckily, those who have the patience to look slightly underneath the surface will stumble upon the downright amazing voice of Beth Hart quite quickly. The raw emotion in her voice has lead to many – partially justified – comparisons with the great Janis Joplin, but she is able of much, much more than just that. And while Hart has been releasing quality albums quite regularly, her most recent ‘Bang Bang Boom Boom’ is by far the one I play most.

Maybe it’s the cooperation with South African producer Kevin Shirley that opened Hart up to a slightly different approach this time. Over the course of her carreer, she has proven herself more than sufficient at Blues, Soul and Rock and while she continues to do so, there are some other influences creeping into the songs on ‘Bang Bang Boom Boom’. Check out ‘Swing My Thing Back Around’ for instance. Despite the fact that it makes complete sense to hear Hart’s strong voice with the big band vibe of the song, it is something of a departure from her earlier work. However, it is trusted enough to not alienate her audience. In fact, the experimentation on the album is very likely to make her audience grow.

Two songs on ‘Bang Bang Boom Boom’ rank amongst Hart’s past masterpieces such as ‘Delicious Surprise’, ‘Skin’ and ‘Am I The One’. Opening track ‘Baddest Blues’ has an exciting build-up in tension, with Hart’s voice adapting to every shift in atmosphere, seemingly without any effort whatsoever. When she gets to her tortured blues howl, goosebumps are guaranteed. And let’s not forget that she’s an amazing piano player as well. This song is the ultimate proof. The other masterpiece is the heart wrenching Blues of ‘Caught Out In The Rain’. This is Beth Hart at her Joplin-est best, in a fantastically written, brooding Blues number.

Other highlights include the powerful ‘Better Man’, the energetic Gospel tribute ‘Spirit Of God’, the swinging title track and the charming little number ‘The Ugliest House On The Block’. But really, I’ve said this about certain singers before, but it’s definitely true for this one: Beth Hart’s voice could even transform the busy tone of a phone into something pleasant to listen to. That’s how good she is.

In the end, it’s her compositions and the instrumental backing that elevates this album above the rest of her discography. While ‘Screamin’ For My Supper’ contains a few of Hart’s carreer highlights, some of the tracks make use of drum programming that annoys the hell out of me. ‘Bang Bang Boom Boom’ is a strongly written, authentically sounding and – what else would you have expected? – fantastically sung record by one of the greatest singers on the planet today. It’s not often that you get a chance to listen to someone with this much talent, but also the emotional gravitas to pull it off with the necessary conviction. Beth Hart is that unique.

Recommended tracks: ‘Caught Out In The Rain’, ‘Baddest Blues’, ‘Better Man’

Album of the Week 16-2014: Warlock – Triumph And Agony

While each of the four albums that Germany’s Warlock has recorded is worth hearing for fans of traditional Heavy Metal, two of them stand out. ‘Hellbound’ is one of those because of its energetic NWOBHM worship, fantastic songwriting and spectacular guitar work by both Rudy Graf and Peter Szigeti. By the time ‘Triumph And Agony’ was recorded, both guitarists had left the band and as a result, the album is really mainly the work of singer Doro Pesch and American producer Joey Balin. The results are stunning: ‘Triumph And Agony’ is a lesson what was possible in terms of both songwriting and production in the late eighties.

Some of Warlock’s earliest fans claim that this album is either over-produced or not Metal enough. And though there may be some truth in those statements, yours truly can’t resist the catchy sound balancing on a line between Hard Rock and Heavy Metal displayed here. In addition, part of what makes this album so stellar is its production. Especially the soaring guitars courtesy of Niko Arvanitis and American newcomer Tommy Bolan – no relation to one of my favorite guitarists whose name only differs one letter – are nothing short of sensational in this sonic representation.

Had I been in charge of the sequencing of this record, I would have opened it with the moving ‘I Rule The Ruins’ – with its fantastic contrasts and climaxes – instead of the enjoyable, but somewhat plain hit single ‘All We Are’, but that’s only a minor complaint. Pesch has spent most of her solo shows opening with ‘I Rule The Ruins’ though, so she’s well aware of the song’s power. The other hit single of the record, the stunning and emotional ballad ‘Für Immer’, is the album’s perfect closer though, leaving the listener with a positive and uplifting message, despite the melancholic nature of the impeccably written music.

The rest of ‘Triumph And Agony’ moves between extremes, covering each of them with equal expertise. Pesch sounds like a woman possessed on the scorching Speed Metal of ‘Touch Of Evil’, Arena Rock has hardly ever sounded as awesome as on the catchy ‘Metal Tango’, ‘Kiss Of Death’ is a powerful and exquisitely built up semi-ballad typical of the decade and the despair of the full-on ballad ‘Make Time For Love’ is heartbreaking. ‘Three Minute Warning’ – though it stays slightly under the time suggested – is a nice and speedy little number as well.

‘Triumph And Agony’ also signals some of the greatest performances of all the musicians involved. As stated before, Arvanitis and Bolan are simply on fire here, but Pesch herself also has her finest hour. Generally sounding slightly more aggressive than before whilst still retaining her knack for strong melodies, she is the hero of this record. The flawless rhythm section of Tommy Henriksen and original drummer Michael Eurich really profits from the production as well.

Doro Pesch deserves all the respect she can get for soldiering on as long as she has and churning out quality Metal albums every now and then, but ‘Triumph And Agony’ marks the apex of her songwriting partnerships. The production is stainless and the songs are without exception catchy enough to please the eighties Hard Rock audiences, but intense and riff-driven enough to appeal to the Heavy Metal crowd. Both would do themselves a favor by checking the album out. If you haven’t yet, be sure to do so while the album is still relatively easy to obtain.

Recommended tracks: ‘I Rule The Ruins’, ‘Metal Tango’, ‘Für Immer’, ‘Touch Of Evil’

Kevy Metal complains: Female fronted Metal

No, this isn’t going to be a manifest against women in Metal. In fact, I have no problem with women in Metal bands, as long as it’s actually good what they are doing. Just like with men. And that’s a part of what annoys me; the term “female fronted Metal” is used these days as if its still some sort of oddity, conjuring up the idea that it’s still inferior to…let’s say “male fronted Metal”. Seriously, I have no idea why I should care about the gender, ethnic background, religion, language, sexual preference, political orientation or whatever of the musicians I’m listening to. Okay, I’ll admit that I chuckle at a funny accent every now and then, but that’s it. I love accents.

Of course, some bands are bound to draw some attraction because there are people involved of a certain gender, skin color or country that are not commonly associated with the genre. In the case of Metal, that would mean anyone who isn’t a white man from the US, England, Germany or Scandinavia. And a Latino in the American Thrash Metal scene – the west coast in particular – isn’t all that uncommon either. I just thought that three decades after Doro Pesch and Sabina Classen, we’d all be a little less surprised by the presence of women in the scene.

The term was once coined to describe the Goth scene that was blooming in the late nineties. The kind of bands with the classically schooled sopranos fronting generally atmospheric, keyboard-laden Metal. Today, it seems to be a marketing stunt to give every band with a woman fronting that label. But let’s be frank: what do Lacuna Coil, Arch Enemy, Nightwish, Triosphere, The Gathering, Girlschool and early Heart really have in common musically that they don’t have in common with other bands in their genre?

Another problem I have with the term “female fronted Metal” is how it’s used as a marketing tool by many labels – “dude, check this out, there’s a chick between all these ugly dudes!” – these days without any regard of the music that is actually on the records. It already puzzles me that some record stores in Holland have sections dedicated to music in the Dutch language, capturing vastly different bands under the same category, but dividing music based on the gender of the one who sings the song is just ridiculous.

Can’t we just drop the “female fronted” affix and just call the music out by its actual genre? Using it still suggests that the music is inferior to its male counterparts. As if Warlock’s classic ‘Triumph And Agony’ and ‘Hellbound’, Crystal Viper’s fantastic debut album, Holy Moses’ ‘The New Machine Of Liechtenstein’ and – somewhat more recent – A Sound Of Thunder’s brilliant ‘Time’s Arrow’ aren’t “regular” Metal classics in their own right. I don’t know if it’s the promo departments of the record labels or the scene itself that has done this to Metal – I have an idea though – but looking at this matter: isn’t it just time to grow up?

Album of the Week 15-2014: Triptykon – Melana Chasmata

Celtic Frost’s swansong ‘Monotheist’ and Triptykon’s ‘Eparistera Daimones’ were simply works of art. Dark, bleak, twisted and ominous art, but art all the same. And as I loved that dark, doom-laden and unique approach, ‘Melana Chasmata’ was a work to look forward to. And as such, it didn’t disappoint. While Thomas Gabriel Fischer’s approach of the aforementioned album is maintained, he also stubbornly refuses to release the same album twice, as he always has done. This album is slightly more accessible due to the average tempo being slightly higher and the song structures being somewheat easier to follow. Still, background music for the faint of heart this is not.

Though there’s still plenty of slow, dirge-like material on ‘Melana Chasmata’, the atmosphere this time isn’t one of quiet, self-destructive introspection all the time. Some of the songs are quite melancholic in nature, while others are surprisingly aggressive. In fact, there are two fast and intense Thrashers this time around in the shape of the brilliant opening track ‘Tree Of Suffocating Souls’ and the blood boiling ‘Breathing’. The main riff of the latter still has the dissonance that we’ve grown used to from Thomas Gabriel Fischer and his fellow guitarist V. Santura, but the Thrashy aggression meets doomy darkness approach brings to mind Celtic Frost’s legendary ‘To Mega Therion’ album.

On the more melancholic side of the album, we have ‘Aurorae’, which builds upon a beautiful clean guitar with perfect delay, layers of harmonic feedback, a subdued and doomy riff and Fischer’s anguished moans. The way this song builds up its tension is far beyond what many alternative (post-)Rock bands who are attempting something similar can possibly wish for. The almost ambient epilogue of ‘Waiting’ contains one of Santura’s most tranquil and beautiful guitar solos thus far, while the semi-Industrial ‘Demon Pact’ displays a combination of darkness and despair unheard of since Bauhaus classic ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’. Emily Brontë tribute ‘In The Sleep Of Death’ contains some wonderful clean guitar coloring and the brilliant semi-clean main riff of ‘Boleskine House’ is a brilliant mislead, as it almost suggests a lighter, more positive song than it actually is. The dirge-like slow riffs of ‘Black Snow’ are closest to the debut.

When listening to the album repeatedly, it dawns on me more and more what a fantastic drummer Norman Lonhard is. His forceful, untriggered sound is already a revelation, but he is a master of using space. Many Metal drummers have a tendency to fill up every void with fills, while Lonhard lets it be and still manages to be incredibly tight. Bassist Vanja Šlajh has a bit more room in the mix this time and is a very powerful bassist.

Despite the slightly different direction taken here, those of you who liked ‘Eparistera Daimones’ are quite likely to get into ‘Melana Chasmata’ as well. It’s another dark and brilliant piece of art that everyone involved should be extremely proud of. And although the album is again very inaccessible, those of you who found the debut interesting, but slightly too hard to get into, you may want to give this album a chance. In the end, I can’t think of any reason why anyone into dark, atmospheric and expertly written Metal shouldn’t be able to appreciate this.

Recommended tracks: ‘Breathing’, ‘Tree Of Suffocating Souls’, ‘Aurorae’

Album of the Week 14-2014: Gamma Ray – Empire Of The Undead

No, ‘Empire Of The Undead’ is not Gamma Ray’s grand return to the great heights they reached on ‘Land Of The Free’, but this is much closer to it than 2007’s ‘Land Of The Free II’, ironically. The album finds the German Power Metal legend somewhere near to the darker sound of their recent day masterpiece ‘Majestic’ and while it never really reaches that level, there are quite a lot of traces of their former brilliance that were so painfully lacking from their previous two records. Especially the latter half of the record finds the band on fire.

Having said that, the album has its fair share of disappointing moments. My main gripe with the album are its lyrics. New drummer Michael Ehré’s first composition ‘Pale Rider’ has some nice stomping riffs, but Kai Hansen’s lyrics to the song are ridiculously bad. The following track ‘Born To Fly’ has a great main riff, but seriously, can’t we think of some other bird than an eagle to describe how high someone is flying? ‘Master Of Confusion’ is a little goofy too, but that song is much more rooted in the Kai Hansen tradition; even though it’s essentially an ‘I Want Out’ rewrite, it’s pure Power Metal euphoria with great lead guitars by the guy who basically invented the genre.

Let’s focus on the album’s highlights instead. First of all, former Metalium drummer Ehré does a more than decent job replacing Daniel Zimmermann, who is hardly missed on the album. Only if you were into his happy choruses, you will notice that he’s not there. There’s a slightly more aggressive edge to some of the songs as well. ‘Hellbent’ is clearly inspired by Judas Priest in its Metal gospel lyrics, but has an almost Thrashy main riff and the title track is pure eighties Speed Metal awesomeness, which makes sense, considering that some of its riffs were reportedly written in the earliest Helloween days.

Other highlights include the uncharactaristically slow and long opening track ‘Avalon’, which is one of the better Gamma Ray epics released in a while. Where most of the band’s past epics relied on a great number of riffs coming and going, ‘Avalon’ focuses on building up a hypnotizing atmosphere instead. The midtempo middle section is fantastic. Henjo Richter’s closing track ‘I Will Return’ is also somewhat epic and surprising in structure as well. Between these two fantastic bookends, there’s a couple of other jewels, like the midtempo stomper ‘Demonseed’ and the melodic Power Metal anthem ‘Seven’. In addition, I think the European bonus track ‘Built A World’ should have been a part of the regular album. It’s poppy Hardrock structure may be a bit odd, but it’s one of the best written songs on here.

When looking at the band members’ individual performances, it’s hard not to notice that Hansen’s voice is showing some signs of wear, which is nothing too strange, considering his age and the fact that he uses his head voice quite a lot. However, it seems like this time, he knows his own boundaries a bit better and in fact, the wear adds to the atmosphere of a song like ‘Avalon’. His guitar work, along Richter’s, is top notch as usual. It’s hard not to love these solo trade-offs.

Fans of German Power Metal can blindly buy ‘Empire Of The Undead’. It’s Gamma Ray’s best record in a while and definitely miles ahead of their direct competition. This is a more inspired effort than ‘To The Metal!’, which really only contained two moments of brilliance (‘Empathy’, of course, and ‘Deadlands’), and ‘Land Of The Free II’. If you get the limited edition, you’ll get a very interesting bonus DVD as well. Despite a few lesser moments, Kai Hansen once again proves why he is the king of European Power Metal.

Recommended tracks: ‘Seven’, ‘Built A World’, ‘Avalon’, ‘I Will Return’


My Istanbul trip of last week have left you, my readers, without an Album of the Week and I’d like to sincerely apologize for that. I could have drawn up something quickly, but instead, I chose to leave you with a shorter advice. Go and check out Mekanik’s debut album ‘Kitlesel Depresyon’! At least these guys understand how to make a decent, old school Thrash Metal album without touching any borders to Death Metal or Metalcore. Their opening slot for Pentagram’s Istanbul show last Friday was a delight, although I would have loved to have heard more of their own material instead of the large number of cover tunes they played. I’ll probably risk a lot of hatred for this, but I’ll take this over Metallica any day.

Next Sunday, there will be a next album of the week. In the meantime, check out this amazing Thrash record! Also, any band naming a song after my birth year scores points in my book!