Archive for July, 2015

Album of the Week 30-2015: Vamps – Bloodsuckers

Entertaining is something that Vamps has always been. Their choruses are easy to shout along, their rhythms are surprisingly danceable for a band so loud and the band doesn’t shy away from a little fanservice, which I find laughable rather than rousing, but entertaining nonetheless. I just haven’t been able to enjoy a full album of theirs, because their simple three-chord contemporary alternative Hard Rock ‘n’ Roll lacked depth to keep it interesting. Until ‘Bloodsuckers’, released outside of Japan earlier this year, came out. Suddenly it seems like Hyde and KAZ had a songwriting masterclass in the meantime.

It’s not like ‘Bloodsuckers’ suddenly contains a number of complex Rock songs, but the men behind Vamps have learned a lesson or two about building up tension within songs. That is exactly why I could listen to the album all the way through instead of just skipping through the highlights like I used to do with the band’s records. In addition, the samples and electronics that used to clash with the guitars are much more an integral part of the songs this time around, resulting in a nice Ministry-like industrial Metal vibe in songs like ‘Lips’. It’s like the band finally equipped all of their potential.

However, the band could still use a class or two in song order. ‘Zero’ isn’t a bad track per say, but it does sound like it should have been on a L’Arc-en-Ciel record rather than a Vamps record. The surprising aspect about that is the fact that KAZ, not Hyde, wrote the track. To give credit where credit is due though, the heartfelt, layered semi-ballad that is ‘Inside Myself’ is the perfect closing track for this record. KAZ does a simple, but perfectly fitting guitar solo near the end of the track. There’s a surprising amount of depth to the track.

As for the rest of the album, it mainly contains nice stompers with strong choruses and headbangable riff work. ‘World’s End’ (or ‘Ahead’, if you have the Japanese version) is a fantastic, catchy Rock stomp with a brilliant sense of release in its chorus and some great vocal work by Hyde. His guitar work blends with KAZ’s fantastically as well. ‘Evil’ and the slower ‘Damned’ employ a somewhat darker approach, with especially the former being an exciting track, ‘Get Away’ is a nice battle between synth, guitar and vocals and ‘Ghost’ is the best of the more introspective tracks.

Those who liked Vamps before ‘Bloodsuckers’ will most likely enjoy this album as well, but it’s also a great place to start if you want to know what the band is all about. It’s where the band transformed from a promising audience favorite to something that is musically interesting as well, no matter the simplicity of the material. In a way, these are really loud Pop songs, but they’re good Pop songs to boot. And with just enough variation to make your listen an entertaining fifty minutes.

Recommended tracks: ‘World’s End’, ‘Evil’, ‘Lips’

Album of the Week 29-2015: DragonForce – Sonic Firestorm

Guilty pleasures come in all shapes in sizes. However, I don’t feel particularly guilty about enjoying artists like ABBA or DragonForce. Sure, the latter may have an abundance of Metal clichés in their songs, but they seem to be very tongue-in-cheeky about it. Also, their brand of warp speed, highly melodic Power Metal has something irresistible. It’s the tempos that get your blood pumping, the choruses that force you to sing along or at least smile, all combined with virtuosic musicianship. So virtuosic that it’s often on the verge of being too much, but ‘Sonic Firestorm’ still manages to stand proudly on the line between flashy musicianship and good songwriting.

In a way, ‘Sonic Firestorm’ is DragonForce’s most accomplished record when it comes to their “Extreme Power Metal” style. Due to the introduction of blastbeats courtesy of former Bal-Sagoth drummer Dave Mackintosh’s debut, the extremities are here for the first time. Also, the tempos seem to be just a tad higher than on their fantastic debut ‘Valley Of The Damned’. While the band would take it too far on its follow-up ‘Inhuman Rampage’, this sophomore record has a handful of expertly written Power Metal tunes. They’re just a bit faster and longer than you may be used to.

So quite a lot of Metal purists dislike the band and I don’t really see why. Case in point: opening track ‘My Spirit Will Go On’ contains all the elements of a good Power Metal track. It builds up very nicely towards several climaxes, has a triumphant chorus with a very pleasant melody and a bunch of amazing guitar leads. Sure, these leads may be a bit too flashy, but there’s still always a good melody somewhere in it. Also, I’m quite fond of the “twin blasts”, as the band calls them.

From there, the band follows a similar formula throughout much of the album, sometimes more upbeat (‘Once In A Lifetime’, ‘Fury Of The Storm’, which has probably the largest number of blastbeats here, but also the most catchy chorus), sometimes a bit darker (‘Fields Of Despair’), sometimes a little progressive (the amazing middle section of ‘Prepare For War’) and there’s even a half-decent ballad (‘Dawn Over A New World’). The ultimate highlight, however, is the ten minute masterpiece ‘Soldiers Of The Wasteland’, which brings together all of the band’s elements. Sam Totman and Herman Li riff and solo as if their lives depend on it, ZP Theart has been given a number of amazing vocal lines (including that chorus: oh my god!) and the build-up leaves absolutely nothing to be desired. Easily the best song in DragonForce history.

Without any doubt, ‘Sonic Firestorm’ is the most “DragonForce” record in the band’s catalog. Personally, I’m slightly more partial to ‘Valley Of The Damned’, because I had been in love with the band’s demo for a while when it came out, but if I had to show someone what this band is all about in terms of both style and quality, this is the one to go for. And sure, their brand of Power Metal may be a bit extreme and cliché-ridden, but remember: no one in the industry does it like this. The album did give some new impulse to a genre that was somewhat stuck. Also, ‘Soldiers Of The Wasteland’ has more Power Metal than some albums in the genre!

Recommended tracks: ‘Soldiers Of The Wasteland’, ‘My Spirit Will Go On’, ‘Fields Of Despair’

Album of the Week 28-2015: Dew-Scented – Intermination

With the arrival of the four Dutch musicians that currently round out Dew-Scented’s lineup besides vocalist Leif Jensen, something happened with the sound of the band. Sure, the hyperspeed, incredibly tight and brutally aggressive sound that balances on the edge of Thrash and Death Metal has remained, but guitarist Marvin Vriesde brought a lot more variation and even a slight hint of melody to the band. Now that his six string partner Rory Hansen and bassist Joost van der Graaf also contribute to the songwriting, ‘Intermination’ is quite likely the most varied Dew-Scented album thus far.

Long time fans shouldn’t be afraid though; ‘Intermination’ is still a Dew-Scented record through and through. It’s just admirable that the band really seems to search for the boundaries of what can be done within the Dew-Scented paradigm. Koen Herfst doesn’t limit himself to blastbeats and Thrash polkas, but also has a great feel for groove and unconventional approaches to familiar formulas. Vriesde and Hansen also offer something new to the guitar solo department. The noisy, Slayer-esque screaming leads of the past have made way for a more Fusion-like approach (Hansen) and thematically strong solos (Vriesde).

As a result, ‘Intermination’ manages to stay interesting for a longer period of time than any predecessor has. Dew-Scented’s records were often frontloaded; by the time you got to the final quarter of the album, your ears would already be tired of the all-out brutal Thrash assault, regardless of how good it was. Want proof? The only live staple on the band’s set that’s near the end of an album is ‘Never To Return’. This time, it’s different. The second half of the album contains some quality Thrashing (‘Power Surge’, ‘Reborn’) and due to successful experimentation with different song tempos and building up tension, you actually get to hear it as well.

Illustrating this most wonderfully is ‘Ode To Extinction’. I doubt if any former Dew-Scented lineup would have been able to create a song quite like this. It starts out with a brooding bass intro courtesy of Van der Graaf and builds into an almost Suffocation-like Thrash/Death Metal song with three amazing guitar solos. Other highlights include ‘Means To An End’, which builds from raging Thrash to a surprisingly atmospheric finale, the trusted sound of ‘Scars Of Creation’ and the adrenalin shot that is opening track ‘On A Collision Course’. Bonus track ‘Those Who Will Not See’ deserved to be on the regular album.

Here’s to hoping that Leif Jensen has finally found his definitive Dew-Scented lineup, because as much as I loved their work with guitarists Flo Müller and Hendrik Bache, I still consider ‘Icarus’ and ‘Intermination’ to be the band’s best records yet. This one definitely benefits from having three different songwriters, each with their own influence on the album. Having played in a Thrash Metal band for years, I have often found the genre quite limiting in terms of songwriting, but this record proofs that you don’t need to fuse it with any other genre to really stretch its boundaries. That alone makes it worthy of your attention.

Recommended tracks: ‘Ode To Extinction’, ‘Means To An End’, ‘On A Collision Course’

Album of the Week 27-2015: Kyuss – Blues For The Red Sun

Europe’s current heatwave inspired me to pick up what is arguably the best music for hot weather in Rock history. Because really, the desert is everywhere on Kyuss’ sophomore album. I can see why Kyuss has always preferred the term Desert Rock instead of Stoner Rock; the incredibly heavy, trance-like music on ‘Blues For The Red Sun’ probably better qualifies as a heat stroke rather than any drug high. Where Kyuss also seems a little more level-headed than their Stoner companions is their ability to write dense, complex songs that manage to stay interesting for their entire run. This album completely deserves its classic status.

The first thing you’ll notice upon hearing ‘Blues For The Red Sun’ for the first time is the massive wall of guitars and bass – the difference between Josh Homme’s downtuned guitars and Nick Oliveri’s rumbling bass is sometimes hard to define. That’s the most important ingredient to the hypnotic nature of Kyuss’ music and it’s also a testament to the genius of producer Chris Goss, who seems to favor performance over sonic perfection. For the untrained ear, the results can almost seem unbearably heavy, but give this some time and it’ll be one of the most overwhelming listening experiences you’ll ever have.

Many bands associated with the Stoner Rock scene lose themselves in drug-fueled jams and noise exercises that don’t go anywhere. For some reason, even when Kyuss moves into that direction stylistically (‘Freedom Run’ comes quite close here), they know how to create structure and maintain momentum. The album is quite heavy on instrumentals, but especially those are the ones that are remarkably complex and thought out. How tight Homme, Oliveri and drummer Brant Bjork sound and how well they follow each other on tracks like ‘Apothecaries’ Weight’ and ‘Molten Universe’ just shows how clear the ideas were in their minds.

By contrast, most of the vocal songs are somewhat more simple by comparison, so that John Garcia – still one of the best Rock singers on the face of the Earth to this day – can shine despite his modest place in the mix. ‘Allen’s Wrench’, opening track ‘Thumb’ and the band’s masterpiece ‘Green Machine’ are straightforward, driving Rockers with great choruses. Bjork also has a tendency to respond to Garcia’s vocals really well. What also sets the band apart from the majority is their sense of humor; from crediting all the lyrics to the instrumental tracks to Garcia to letting him sing “I hate slow songs” for the biggest innovator in slow Rock music since Black Sabbath, it’s subtle, but it’s awesome.

Kyuss’ fan base is still conflicted on whether this one or the following ‘Welcome To Sky Valley’ is the quartet’s greatest achievement. I wouldn’t be able to tell either, as both albums are simply masterpieces, but ‘Blues For The Red Sun’ is rightfully hailed as the record that put Desert Rock on the map. The album was often imitated, but never exceeded and that exactly is the mark of a classic album. Due to the band’s songwriting skills and Garcia’s amazing clean but raw vocals, the record may even impress people not normally into Stoner Rock. It’s timeless, heavy Rock music.

Recommended tracks: ‘Green Machine’, ’50 Million Year Trip (Downside Up)’, ‘Freedom Run’