Archive for July, 2016

Album of the Week 30-2016: Candlemass – Tales Of Creation

Back when I was a young teenager, my opinion was that Heavy Metal should be fast. Candlemass – not even Black Sabbath – was the band that single-handedly turned me around. Their combination of massive guitar riffs and powerful vocals – in fact, current singer Mats Levén is the sixth amazing singer the band had throughout its career – immediately appealed to me when I first heard it. Somehow, the lower tempo and accessory grand sound accounts for a very immersive listening experience. And though bassist and main composer Leif Edling will point to Black Sabbath for inventing Doom Metal, Candlemass certainly are trailblazers.

‘Nightfall’, ‘Ancient Dreams’ and ‘Tales Of Creation’ are generally considered the classic period of the band. These records captured the band at the peak of their popularity and most comfortable with their style. And while I wouldn’t disagree with the classic status of ‘Nightfall’, I find myself listening to ‘Tales Of Creation’ more. Not only because it contains more actual songs, but also because this is Edling’s first peak as a songwriter as opposed to a riff writer. While the monolithic Doom riffs are everywhere on the record, but there’s a slightly larger emphasis on different tempos and challenging structures, making it a pleasure to listen to repeatedly.

Speaking of the tempos, most controversial is the inclusion of the instrumental ‘Into The Unfathomed Tower’, Candlemass’ fastest song to date. The discomfort with an uptempo, almost neoclassical piece in which lead guitarist Lars Johansson gets the chance to really shine is understandable, but I really like the energetic nature of the song. Other somewhat faster experiments mainly focus on midtempo work, but where ‘Dark Are The Veils Of Death’ just barely failed to hit the mark for me, ‘Through The Infinitive Halls Of Death’ and ‘Dark Reflections’ are among the band’s best tracks, both tracks containing essential Doom Metal choruses.

When the band focuses on more familiar tempos, they are just as convincing. ‘A Tale Of Creation’ is built upon a slow, crushing riff and a fantastic performance by singer Messiah Marcolin – that lead guitar section by Johansson is nothing to scoff at either – while ‘Somewhere In Nowhere’ manages to stay slow, simple and interesting at the same time. ‘Tears’ is a combination of both approaches with its brooding main riff and perfect guitar arrangement in the midtempo chorus and as a result is one of the hidden gems in Candlemass’ discography.

If that wasn’t enough to convince you, this is also the best produced record in Candlemass history, save for maybe the amazing 2007 record ‘King Of The Grey Islands’. Every performance sounds and feels just perfect, which is the icing on the cake made of Edling’s most consistently awesome set of songs. There is a concept about the origin of life buried somewhere between all these amazing riffs, but apart from two somewhat unnecessary spoken interludes, that should not influence your listening experience either way. If you like Metal in its most primal, Sabbath-y form, ‘Tales Of Creation’ is a great record for you to check out. As is most of Candlemass’ discography really…

Recommended tracks: ‘Tears’, ‘A Tale Of Creation’, ‘Into The Unfathomed Tower’

Album of the Week 29-2016: Golden Earring – Moontan

Outside of the Netherlands, Golden Earring is known as that band from ‘Radar Love’ and maybe ‘Twilight Zone’. For any Dutchman, they are the biggest Rock band in the country and have been so for a majority of their fifty-five years of existence. Yes, fifty-five uninterrupted years. Their mind blowing 1973 record ‘Moontan’ was even voted the best Dutch album by readers of the music magazine Oor. And even though I suspect the presence of their worldwide hit ‘Radar Love’ plays a part in that vote, its powerful musicianship and at time surprising songwriting make it one of the most enjoyable records made in the glorious seventies.

If there’s one thing you can criticize the Golden Earring on, it’s that they have been relatively sensitive to trends. Back in the early seventies, however, they were pretty much their own thing. Their riffs and rhythms had a Stonesy boogie feel, but the band mixed that with influences from the psychedlic and progressive Rock scenes as well as little flourishes of Americana and Soul. And while they released a couple of excellent albums since, the combination of styles was never as catchy and effective as on ‘Moontan’. Masterfully arranged and moreso, forcefully executed.

So by now, I’m assuming you all know ‘Radar Love’. Rightfully a popular song – it’s quite cleverly arranged; it’s got a steady tempo but feels like it’s moving through tempo changes and the horn-driven middle section is explosive – but it’s hardly the only good thing here. The most straightforward Rocker ‘Just Like Vince Taylor’ is an Earring live classic to this day, but opening track ‘Candy’s Going Bad’ is even better; it builds from a sleazy Bluesrocker with great vocal interplay between Barry Hay and guitarist George Kooymans to an almost spacey middle section without losing any of its power.

Highlighting the album – and Golden Earring’s entire discography, for that matter – is the haunting closer ‘The Vanilla Queen’. It’s a true exercise in climaxes; from the subdued verses to the bigger chorus and from the psychedelic middle section to the unbelievable finale, where the band’s best riff works its magic with the horns. The guitar break between the second and third choruses brings to mind vintage Rush, despite predating it by a few years. The other long track, ‘Are You Receiving Me’ is simpler, but profits from Cesar Zuiderwijk’s unconventional drums and – again – fantastic vocal harmonies.

In the end, only ‘Suzy Lunacy (Mental Rock)’ stands out like a sore thumb, but that’s rather because its sixties Pop vibe clashes with the sprawling character of rest of the record. It’s quite a decent song on its own. Apart from that, ‘Moontan’ is an unlikely, but ultimately highly infectious mix of early progressive Rock and classic Rock ‘n’ Roll. It’s not surprising that it got voted the best Dutch album – really, only Urban Dance Squad’s ‘Mental Floss For the Globe’ and maybe Bettie Serveert’s ‘Palomine’ are serious contenders – but it may be surprising that the record still sounds so fresh today, 43 years after its release. Highly recommended to fans of seventies Stones, Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin and early Rush.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Vanilla Queen’, ‘Candy’s Going Bad’, ‘Are You Receiving Me’

Album of the Week 28-2016: Reckless Tide – Helleraser

Reckless Tide was a modern Thrash Metal band that should have made it big, but somehow never did. Maybe some things weren’t quite taken care of on the business end, because the musical side is excellent. Unlike other bands that were trying to breathe new life into the genre in the 21st century, Reckless Tide wasn’t just focusing on Pantera-like chugging. They knew how to write a good melody and had some impressive technical skills on board – their rhythm section in particular. ‘Helleraser’ maybe isn’t for the Thrash purists, but those who like their music propulsive, melodic and unpredictable should find something of their liking here.

On this sophomore album, Reckless Tide still had two singers in the band. At the time, more bands were taking this approach to various degrees of necessity, but even though I find myself enjoying Kjell Hallgreen’s melodic approach more, at least he and his more Hardcore-like British colleague Andrew Troth had quite different approaches. More interesting is the guitar work: while Susanne Swillus and Oliver Jaath don’t trap you in a crossfire of solos, their riff work is highly dynamic and their melodic themes are nothing short of amazing. They’re memorable and catchy, but don’t neuter the songs.

As with the vocals, my favorite songs on ‘Helleraser’ are definitely on the more melodic side. ‘Symbiont -Chaper II- (Welcome To My World)’ is defined by its heartfelt chorus, but there’s some tight riff work and a lot of irresistible twin guitar melodies at work as well. Also, I still don’t get why ‘C.H.A.O.S.’ is a bonus track. Okay, the lyrics are a slab of Glamrock cheese, but the riff work is so excellent and the almost dreamy atmosphere of the chorus is unique. ‘House Of Cards’ is the album’s most melodic and catchy moment, but manages to be powerful enough to not sound out of place.

However, the band has something to offer when they’re in full-on Thrash mode as well. ‘Evolution’ and ‘Extosterone’ are excellent in mixing up melody and aggression and end up being the most traditional sounding songs of the set. Drummer Kai Swillus is all over the place in the fantastic title track, which starts with one of the most chaotic passages of the record and evolves into a high octane Thrasher with raging riff work and a tranquil outro. And then there’s ‘Kleemähendeäbte’, which is too silly for its own good, but secretly has some excellent musicianship in it as well.

Combined with its awesome artwork – not just the album cover, quite a lot of effort visibly went into the booklet – ‘Helleraser’ was one of the better total products of an era in which the music industry increasingly invested in throw-away products. It’s also one of the very few modern Thrash records of which the listenability outstays one or two spins and that’s simply because the band has a couple of great songwriters in its line-up. Definitely worth your time if you haven’t heard it yet. If only because this band was really doing their own thing. It’s a shame they’re no longer together.

Recommended tracks: ‘Symbiont -Chapter II- (Welcome To My World)’, ‘C.H.A.O.S.’, ‘Helleraser’

Album of the Week 27-2016: Hiromi – Spark

So much girl power at the North Sea Jazz festival this year! Esperanza Spalding especially blew me away with her music meets performance art presentation of her excellent ‘Emily’s D+Evolution’ album, but Hiromi wasn’t far behind. It wasn’t just her crazily accurate and sometimes warp-speed piano playing; her whole trio was on fire. Of course, she has enlisted the help of two cross-genre giants in the shape of drummer Simon Phillips and bassist – excuse me, contrabass guitarist – Anthony Jackson, but music history has proven time and time again that putting great musicians together doesn’t necessarily result in a great record. In the case of ‘Spark’, it does though.

Japanese Jazz – or Japanese music in general really – has a tendency to be excessively polished. And while I like my music a little on the clean side, the soul sometimes gets washed out in the process. Whether it’s the fact that she lives in America these days, I don’t know, but Hiromi’s found the balance between polish and structure on one side and wild abandon on the other. The former is quite clear in the very strongly composed melodic themes on this album, the latter in the improvisations by all three musicians involved.

Melodically, ‘Spark’ has a very dreamy, almost fairytale-like atmosphere. As band leader, Hiromi seems to make sure that the virtuosity of the entire trio doesn’t get in the way of those main melodies. Of course, Phillips’ powerhouse drumming and remarkable control over the strength of his hits plays a pivotal role in the album’s rhythmic strength – though I think his carefully crafted sound is the main merit of his presence here – but it never gets too busy. Jackson especially has no problem taking backseat to the composition, but then again: he’s a master of the groove, so why not use him as such?

In a way, the opening title track sums up the album quite well. After a slow fade-in, there’s an upbeat melody carrying the song before moving into more visceral improvisations that never go out of line. The rest of the record moves back and forth between relaxed (the almost Bluesy ‘Indulgence’, the seventies Herbie Hancock-esque ‘What Will Be, Will Be’) and propulsive (the choppy ‘Wonderland’, closing track ‘All’s Well’), sometimes even within the same song (the dramatic ‘Dilemma’). ‘Wake Up And Dream’ feels like a classical piano piece, while ‘Take Me Away’ is a special track; Jackson uses his instrument in an almost guitar-like fashion, after which the song moves through multiple hypnotizing climaxes.

Through several years of experience as a music journalist, I’ve grown a little suspicious of artists that are hyped. In case of Hiromi, it is fully justified. She can obviously play her heart out, but what made the attention last for the decade and a half that she’s been profesionally active now is that she’s able to channel that virtuosity into tunes that are crafted so well that you can call them songs. And that isn’t necessarily the case for Jazz artists. Also, she’s found the perfect people to accompany her in Jackson and Phillips. ‘Spark’ is easily Hiromi’s crowning achievement thus far and leaves a promising path open for the future.

Recommended tracks: ‘Spark’, ‘Dilemma’, ‘Take Me Away’

Guitar heroes where they belong: in Gitarist

In stores now: the “guitar hero special” of Gitarist. I have contributed quite heavily to this one by interviewing Adrian Belew about his fascination with strange sounds and providing a background to our Prince workshop. Tim Eijmaal maybe isn’t considered a guitar hero in the traditional sense, but I think he’s a great player and he gets an increasing number of opportunities to show how good he is in the amazing Sven Hammond. Be sure to check them out if you haven’t already. Other guitar heroes included that talked to my colleagues are Eddie Van Halen, Jeff Beck and Joe Bonamassa. Talk about big names…

Naturally, we have gear and music reviews of all kinds included as well, so I can’t see any reason to not run to the store right now. Unless you get it delivered to your house, of course.

Album of the Week 26-2016: Yossi Sassi Band – Roots And Roads

Ever since leaving Orphaned Land, Yossi Sassi seems to be more productive than ever. In fact, now that he only has his own band to mind, it looks like the last obstacle was broken down and he’s really not holding back anymore. How else can you explain the sound of ‘Roots And Roads’? Not only is the Israeli string wizard bringing east and west together again with a musical scope that borders on the incredible, it’s also the heaviest and most song oriented record he has made under his own name yet. A progressive work in the truest sense of the world.

Once again, ‘Roots And Roads’ finds Sassi and his excellent backing band combining the traditional music of the middle east with progressive Rock and Metal. There’s a distinct difference between this album and its predecessor ‘Desert Butterflies’ though; where that record focused mainly on instrumental works, about half of this one features vocals. It’s not like Sassi has toned down the sound of his band – quite the opposite actually – but there does seem to be a greater deal of memorability here. His instrumentals were always fairly well-written, but the melodies really have a way of getting stuck in your head this time.

‘Roots And Roads’ features an impressive list of guest musicians. And while some of them really put their mark on some of the tracks – Harel Shachal’s clarinet on the enchanting ‘Winter’ is mindblowing, while Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal yet again makes an appearance in the awesome ‘Palm Dance’ – it is Sassi himself who steals the show. If he’s not churning out powerful riffs and passionate leads, he’s rocking the bouzouki, saz, oud or chumbush like no one before or since. When those instruments appear, they usually carry the melody – ‘Root Out’ and opening track ‘Wings’ are the most obvious examples – which makes sense, given the pioneer status he has when it comes to incorporating Middle-Eastern elements in Rock music.

Another thing Sassi has done really well on this record is using many different vocal styles throughout the album. The line-up of his band has a male singer in himself and a powerful female singer in Sapir Fox, although the similarly-voiced Diana Golbi lays down the best performance on the record in ‘Root Out’. Myrath singer Zaher Zorgati, on the other hand, provides a strong contrast to Sassi’s voice with his Roy Khan meets Mats Levén performance on ‘The Religion Of Music’, marking his second appearance on a masterpiece in 2016.

If all that musical brilliance wasn’t enough, ‘Roots And Roads’ has a very pleasant flow due to a perfect sense of climaxes and light-and-shade workings. It’s the final polish on an album that is worth hearing by any music fan all over the globe, which seems fitting, given that it’s obviously Sassi’s mission to break down boundaries and letting the music speak for itself. The musicians are from different continents and so are the musical influences that can be heard throughout the album. And while any other musician would turn such a myriad of influences into an incoherent mess, you can leave it up to Yossi Sassi to make one of this year’s finest records out of it.

Recommended tracks: ‘Palm Dance’, ‘Winter’, ‘Root Out’