Archive for the ‘ Music ’ Category

Album of the Week 41-2019: Despair – Beyond All Reason

Some bands are known as a springboard for their band members’ further succes rather than for their own music. Germany’s Despair is one of those bands. Original vocalist Robert Kampf would go on to start Century Media Records, guitarist Waldemar Sorychta is a renowned producer and known for Grip Inc. rather than Despair, while drummer Markus Freiwald recently played with Sodom. It is unfortunate that Despair is a forgotten name, because their third and thus far final album ‘Beyond All Despair’ in particular is an incredible work of progressive thrash metal. It strikes the perfect balance between melody, aggression and complexity.

Debut album ‘History Of Hate’ was a great example of music that has the unbridled aggression of thrash metal with a greater emphasis on compositorical intricacy. The production and the vocals occasionally were more primitive than necessary, but the material on the album showed great promise. When Kampf departed the band to focus on his record label, the arrival of Andreas Henschel allowed the band to go in a somewhat more melodic direction, as even his barks have a somewhat melodic slant. And where second album ‘Decay Of Humanity’ suffers from monotony, its follow-up does almost everything right.

One notable thing about ‘Beyond All Reason’ is how much it sounds like ‘Nosferatu’-era Helstar at times. ‘Imported Love’ and ‘Son Of The Wild’ in particular would fit that album. The riffs consist of lots of notes and are almost neoclassical in approach, but at the same time, they have a dark, eerie atmosphere that really makes ‘Beyond All Reason’ stand out among Despair’s discography. The semi-ballad ‘In The Deep’ has a more than passing resemblance to ‘The Curse Has Passed Away’, though with a much more engaging second half. It would not be fair to accuse Despair of copying Helstar here, but the influence can clearly be heard.

It is worth noting that despite the more atmospheric and progressive approach – at times enhanced by Sorychta’s tasteful keyboard work – Despair still shows its thrash metal roots here. The riff work in ‘Rage In The Eyes’, for instance, is every bit as classy as on the rest of the album, but a bit more aggressive than on other tracks. The following ‘Burnt Out Souls’ is very aggressive in its rhythms as well. ‘Deaf And Blind’, on the other hand, has the more proggy side of the band on full display without feeling like a disorienting opening track. The dense ‘The Day Of Desperation’ is somewhat slower, but no less complex and inspired.

While ‘History Of Hate’ is often seen as the ultimate Despair album, ‘Beyond All Reason’ is the record where the quality of everyone involved shines through. The compositions are great, the production is a perfect fit for the progressive thrash style on the record and Sorychta and Marek Greschek – interestingly both born in Poland – are an incredible guitar team. There are great riffs and solos from both all over the record and in that regard, instrumental closer ‘Crossed In Sorrow’ is a perfect showpiece for them. Anyone looking for progressive or technical thrash metal with a little something special should look no further.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Day Of Desperation’, ‘Deaf And Blind’, ‘Burnt Out Souls’


Release of the Week Extra 41-2019: Aria – Gost’ Iz Tsarstva Teney

Bands whose songs are inspired by movies or works of literature are often inspired to do theatrical concerts at some point. Aria did this already with ‘Plyaska Ada’ back in 2007, but ‘Gost’ Iz Tsarstva Teney’ has them armed with a more consistent set of songs and a better singer. As a result of this set-up, ‘Gost’ Iz Tsarstva Teney’ focuses on Aria’s more theatrical songs, but those tend to be their best anyway. It even has a very pleasant flow if you just listen to the audio portion, however, which makes this a must-have for fans of traditional heavy metal.

‘Gost’ Iz Tsarstva Teney’ is Aria’s third live release in three years, which may seem like too much, but all of these were special occasions. ‘Klassicheskaya Aria’ had the band playing with an orchestra and ’30 Let! Yubileyniy Kontsert’ was an anniversary show. Despite the theatrical themes, ‘Gost’ Iz Tsarstva Teney’ is the most “normal” of the three in the sense that it’s just the band playing some of their best material without having to take orchestral arrangements or appearances from former members into account. Combine that with the band’s tight, yet energetic playing and you’ve got one of Aria’s best live sets to date.

As good as the band’s compositions and musicianship are, an important part of why this set-up works is current singer Mikhail Zhitnyakov. He is easily the best Aria singer to date. His dramatic vocals really fit the material on this record and his visual performance makes me wonder if he has a background in musical theater. From the moment the band blasts out of the gate with the incredible ‘Gonka Za Slavoy’, he grabs the audience by the throat and while I’m not necessarily a fan of singers changing clothes a lot, he really embodies the characters he acts out. Hear him sing ‘Antichrist’ – a song I thought no one could do better than Valery Kipelov, but I’ve been proven wrong – and you’ll hear what I mean. His fantastic entrance helps, but his amazing vocal performance gives it lasting value.

Sonically, there is very little to complain about. All the instruments are crisp, clear and lively and I have the idea there hasn’t been a lot of post-productional polishing going on, especially since the concert was recorded in late April and is out already. Vitaly Dubinin really proves the value of having a bassist who does more than blindly following the guitars, as his playing is melodically richer than that of Steve Harris, who appears to be his main influence. Sergey Popov and Vladimir Holstinin are an incredible guitar duo, with Popov being the slightly more aggressive player, sounding as an unshakable guitar wall when playing in unison. Maxim Udalov is the ultimate serviceable drummer who knows what the music needs at all times.

Of course, the visual appeal of the show will be the major talking point for the DVD portion of ‘Gost’ Iz Tsarstva Teney’. Some of it is a really nice addition too and certainly better executed than Iron Maiden’s half-assed attempts on ‘Death On The Road’. A good thing is that the theatrical elements are sometimes quite subtle, such as the denim jackets for ‘Geroy Asfalta’ or the red muleta in Zhitnyakov’s pocket during ‘Torero’, which allows the bands to play these classics without them feeling like too much of a departure from the rest of the show. It’s even better because this is probably the best version of ‘Torero’ that is currently available on any Aria live recording. The breastplate on Zhitnyakov’s armor saying “ARIA” instead of “SPQR” during the incredible ‘Kolizey’ is a nice touch.

However, even without the DVD portion, ‘Gost’ Iz Tsarstva Teney’ is worth hearing. Ultimately, that is what makes it a successful release. Aria managed to put on what looks like a music theater show without it getting in the way of their fantastic songs. There are six songs from last year’s ‘Proklyatiye Morey’ on the release, but it isn’t as focused on that record as one might think. Also, with excellent performances of classics like ‘Shtil’, ‘Kreshcheniye Ognëm’, ‘Noch Koroche Dnya’, ‘Obman’ and the anthemic ‘Ulitsa Roz’ in addition to all the aforementioned tracks, it would be a great introductory release for anyone who wants to get acquainted with the band. If you aren’t sure whether you want to order the album or not, make sure you check it out on one of the bigger streaming platforms, as it is internationally available.

Recommended tracks: ‘Gonka Za Slavoy’, ‘Antichrist’, ‘Kolizey’, ‘Torero’

Album of the Week 40-2019: The Magpie Salute – High Water II

While it isn’t entirely fair to keep comparing The Magpie Salute to The Black Crowes due to the large number of shared members, the fact is that the Crowes had not impressed me as much as The Magpie Salute’s debut album ‘High Water I’ did last year. Without his brother Chris, Rich Robinson was allowed to focus on what made his music so good in the first place: well-written songs and the inspired guitar interplay between him and Marc Ford. Add an exceptional singer in the shape of John Hogg and you’ve got recipe for success. ‘High Water II’ is no different.

Musically, ‘High Water II’ does appear to be a little more direct than its predecessor. The latter day Led Zeppelin-isms of ‘High Water’ and the slightly psychedelic touches have mostly been sacrificed in favor of a selection of tightly composed southern rock, southern soul and americana songs that are big on melodic hooks and spontaneity. Though I am not familiar with the recording process, it does look like it has been recorded with the entire band in one room again. The recordings just have that feel. Especially in the way the musicians react to one another at times.

Despite its more direct approach, ‘High Water II’ failed to make the impression the first part did when I listened to it the first time. A couple of spins in, it is hard to define why, as there is plenty to like on here for anyone who enjoyed the debut. Fans of the soulful rockers will be delighted by the likes of ‘Doesn’t Really Matter’, ‘Leave It All Behind’, the horn-heavy ‘In Here’ and ‘Turn It Around’, while the more americana-oriented part of the audience will certainly be enamored by the Marc Ford-sung tracks ‘Lost Boy’ and ‘Life Is A Landslide’. The semi-epic ‘Mother Storm’ marries the two sides quite perfectly.

As a whole, ‘High Water II’ has a very pleasant flow, because its consistently energetic, high-quality playing and writing does not let up. There are slightly less obvious highlights this time around, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t around. Closing track ‘Where Is This Place’ is a masterpiece in the way it combines the compositorical elements of country blues with the electrified grooves of late sixties and early seventies soul. The Stonesy grit of ‘Gimme Something’ accounts for a driving, powerful song, while ‘Sooner Or Later’ definitely is the most Crowes-like song on the record and therefore a perfect choice to open the record.

I’ve said it before, but I will say it again: without Chris Robinson’s insistent hippie mysticism, Rich Robinson’s songs come across much better these days. There don’t appear to be any ego’s in The Magpie Salute: everyone just seems to want what is best for the song. While it is easy to transform these types of songs into a vehicle for overlong soloing, the band keeps its records concise, memorable and highly inspired. While I still think ‘High Water I’ has a slight edge over this new album, it is basically as close as it can possibly get and quite likely is more consistent as a whole.

Recommended tracks: ‘Where Is This Place’, ‘Mother Storm’, ‘Gimme Something’

Album of the Week 39-2019: Hatriot – From Days Unto Darkness

Will Hatriot ever lose the stigma of being the hobby band Steve ‘Zetro’ Souza from Exodus and his sons had? Time will have to tell, but if their third album ‘From Days Unto Darkness’ proves anything, it would be that the band is every bit as viable without Zetro. Hatriot’s riffs are better and have more of a bite than those of the average retro thrash band and as a whole, the album is a tad more consistent than sophomore record ‘Dawn Of The New Centurion’. It might just be the best thrash metal album of the year thus far.

Those critical of the band have always complained about the fact that Hatriot sounds exactly like modern Exodus. ‘From Days Unto Darkness’ will do nothing to change those people’s minds. Bassist Cody Souza took over the vocal position and manages to sound almost exactly like his father – save for the occasional growl or hardcore bark – and Kosta Varvatakis’ riffs still sound like Gary Holt on a Destruction binge. The question is whether that is a problem. Somehow, Hatriot does contemporary Exodus better than Exodus themselves. ‘From Days Unto Darkness’ is more engaging and consistent than any recent release of their elders.

If there is anything Hatriot deserves all the praise they can get for, it is the fact that they take the admittedly limited parameters of thrash metal and truly make the most out of it. The time feel changes in a track like ‘Organic Remains’ keep it from being locked in strict categories like “the groovy song” or “the brutal track”, instead opting for highly dynamic thrash songs that manage to stay engaging despite the constant onslaught of aggressive riffs going on. Varvatakis is quite creative in his riffs as well. Naturally, there is always a bit of low E-string chugging, but he is quite playful with the notes between those chugs.

Creating an interesting 50+ minute thrash album is not an easy feat, but Hatriot succeeds seemingly effortlessly. Standout tracks are hard to find due to the consistently high level of the record, but ‘Ethereal Nightmare’ definitely stole my heart immediately with the eerie guitar harmonies in its intro and the whirlwind of semi-technical, almost Forbidden-esque riffs that follows. Those craving a more brutal approach to thrash metal will probably be delighted by the likes of ‘Delete’ and ‘World, Flesh & Devil’. ‘One Less Hell’ is an excellent introductory track, while tracks like ‘Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed’ and ‘Daze Into Darkness’ pummel your ear drums relentlessly.

Hatriot is no longer Zetro’s band, but ‘From Days Unto Darkness’ proves that has very little effect on the band’s sound. Sure, the lyrics aren’t quite as clever this time around, but chances are you won’t even be paying attention to them until a couple of listens in. As long as Varvatakis keeps on writing these killer riffs, Hatriot is easily the best thing modern American thrash has to offer since the first two Bonded By Blood albums. The highly versatile drumming of Nick Souza is the band’s secret weapon and Juan Urteaga’s production adds both punch and sharpness to the guitars. If you like bands that sound like the ones mentioned in this review, ‘From Days Unto Darkness’ is a must-hear.

Recommended tracks: ‘Ethereal Nightmare’, ‘Organic Remains’, ‘World, Flesh & Devil’

Album of the Week 38-2019: Tankard – One Foot In The Grave

When one looks beyond Tankard’s reputation as that punky thrash metal band with all the drinking anthems, a wealth of interesting material can be found. The band has always tried to strike a balance between alcohol-related content and socially aware lyrics. ‘One Foot In The Grave’ has a strong focus on the latter. And while the lyrics here are hardly the most nuanced or cleverly written observations of social wrongdoings, the atmosphere is more serious than one might expect from Tankard. And more importantly: the subject matter has apparently inspired one of their most consistent sets of songs to date.

Overall, ‘One Foot In The Grave’ has a somewhat melancholic atmosphere that really makes the album stand out in Tankard’s discography. Even the lone beer song (‘Secret Order 1516’) is a rather ambitious epic rather than the party vibe that the band is known for. The presence of guitarist Andreas Gutjahr makes such an approach possible, as his more melodic background has enriched Tankard’s traditional teutonic thrash sound with an almost melodeath feel in the riffing department, but the band as a whole never sounded as confidently melodic as on ‘One Foot In The Grave’, all the while retaining their aggressvie intensity.

The first thing that stands out about ‘One Foot In The Grave’ is how memorable the songs are. Tankard always had a handful of tracks with replay value on their records, but the ones that were not often had a tendency to blend together. This time, every track has a recognizable hook or – more often – a riff that will refuse to leave your head. There are some cool traditional thrashers, such as ‘Don’t Bullshit Us!’ and closing track ‘Sole Grinder’, but overall, the greater degree of dynamics really does wonders for the flow ‘One Foot In The Grave’ has.

Among the other tracks, ‘Syrian Nightmare’ is a highlight. The lyrics, written from the perspective of a Syrian boy, are actually surprisingly sensitive, but what is more important is that the music is really good. More intense than the lyrical idea might suggest, the triplet rhythms keep pushing the song forward, while Gutjahr adds some tasteful lead guitar parts here and there. The preceding title track is the best example of the album’s melodic sadness and has a bunch of fantastic guitar harmonies. ‘Northern Crown (Lament Of The Undead King)’ is a true gem as well, finding middle ground between Tankard thrash and epic heavy metal quite marvellously.

For those who would like to hear more of the melodic thrash that Tankard occasionally impressed with on albums like ‘The Beauty And The Beer’ or ‘A Girl Named Cerveza’, ‘One Foot In The Grave’ is likely the ultimate Tankard album thus far. Don’t get me wrong, the elements that make Tankard the band they are can be found all over the album, right down to Andreas ‘Gerre’ Geremia’s aggressive vocals, which have been left almost untouched by time. There are just more of those melodic touches that make latter day Tankard superior to their classic material for me on ‘One Foot in The Grave’. I hope they will continue this approach on the next album.

Recommended tracks: ‘Northern Crown (Lament Of The Undead King)’, ‘Syrian Nightmare’, ‘Secret Order 1516’, ‘One Foot In The Grave’

Album of the Week 37-2019: Capilla Ardiente – The Siege

Not too long ago, in a review about Capilla Ardiente’s debut album ‘Bravery, Truth And The Endless Darkness’, I voiced the hope that the sophomore album the Chilean doomsters were working on at the time would be as good. ‘The Siege’ is now available and it is good. Very good even. The band continues its epic doom metal sound with slight hints of doom/death riffing for extra despair, though the latter are slightly less pronounced than on its predecessor. ‘The Siege’ really elevates Capilla Ardiente above their status as promising, making them quite possibly the greatest doom metal band currently in existence.

As a whole, ‘The Siege’ has a slightly more epic heavy metal vibe than ‘Bravery, Truth And The Endless Darkness’, though never so much that one would confuse them with Procession, the other band of bassist Claudio Botarro Neira and singer Felipe Plaza Kutzbach. The overall tempo feels slightly higher as well, although there are still plenty of riffs that are close to dirge-like tempos. Not unlike the debut, Botarro Neira’s multi-faceted compositions steal the show here. And that is quite an achievement, considering that Plaza Kutzbach’s passionate, mournful and powerful vocal delivery is once again highly impressive.

Botarro Neira’s compositions kind of feel like multi-part suites with a greater deal of coherence than is usual with those kinds of compositions. Despite all the dynamics and – relatively subtle – tempo changes, the parts of all the songs feel like they belong together in one track rather than being haphazardly thrown together. And because of that, a song like thirteen plus minute opener ‘The Open Arms, The Open Wounds’ can move through several atmospheres and tempos without sounding disjointed. It is slightly more riff-driven and less reliant on atmosphere than previous opener ‘Nothing Here For Me’, but every bit as good.

Those who have heard ‘Bravery, Truth And The Endless Darkness’ know what to expect. There are some small surprises, such as the almost gothic-sounding bass and vocals only section right before the finale of ‘The Crimson Fortress’, and the excellent guitar solos courtesy of Julio Bórquez, including an acoustic one near the end of closing track ‘Fallen Alphas And Rising Omega’. There are a lot of twin guitar harmonies this time around, the beginning of the album’s most traditional doom metal-sounding track ‘The Spell Of Concealment’ in particular is loaded with them.

Keeping things interesting throughout four tracks that are all over nine and a half minutes is not an easy task. Many bands in the genre just resort to endlessly repeating a bunch of crushing riffs, but Capilla Ardiente obviously is not content with doing that. As I was hoping, ‘The Siege’ is another record full of great doom riffs, excellent melodies and the odd virtuosic moment by either Bórquez or Botarro Neira. And let’s not forget that voice! The production is slightly less explosive than on ‘Bravery, Truth And The Endless Darkness’, but you hardly notice that after the second playthrough. I could not recommend this more.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Crimson Fortress’, ‘Fallen Alphas And Rising Omega’

Album of the Week 36-2019: Sodom – Epitome Of Torture

Sometimes, good albums slip through the cracks for reasons beyond my comprehension. Despite getting Sodom’s fourteenth album ‘Epitome Of Torture’ around its release date, as I was quite fond of the four albums that preceded it, all I remembered about it all those years later was Tom Angelripper’s mispronunciation of “epitome”. A recent spin of the record was enough proof that it’s actually really good. Probably not the perfect album for those who prefer Sodom at their most primitive, but those who like a refreshing spin on the intensity of thrash metal should like ‘Epitome Of Torture’.

‘Epitome Of Torture’ was the first album Sodom recorded with drummer Markus ‘Makka’ Freiwald. Personally, I was quite fond of his predecessor Bobby Schottkowski, who also recorded the masterpiece ‘The Dying Race’ with Crows, also featuring guitarist Bernd ‘Bernemann’ Kost. Since Freiwald also plays with the hideously underrated progressive thrashers Despair, however, he was perfect for the more refined direction Sodom would take on ‘Epitome Of Torture’. Not unlike ‘In War And Pieces’ before it, ‘Epitome Of Torture’ is as brutal as one would expect Sodom to be, but the arrangements are smarter and the songs take some surprising twists.

Those fearing that Sodom had watered down their sound should not worry. The blunt force of the war machine seen on the album cover can still be heard in songs like the mounstrously heavy title track and the absolutely lethal ‘Stigmatized’. It just is not the only thing Sodom is after on the album. For instance, the hardcore-infused groove monster ‘Cannibal’ sounds unlike anything the Germans ever attemtped before. ‘Invocating The Demons’ and ‘Into The Skies Of War’ subtly flirt with some melody, which gives them a somewhat haunting quality. Closing track ‘Tracing The Victim’ and ‘Katjuscha’ are more “openly” melodic.

Sometimes the changes are more subtle. ‘Shoot Today – Kill Tomorrow’ is fast and brutal enough to sound like classic Sodom, but the riff work is quite intricate and the rhythms in the intro relatively unpredictable. ‘S.O.D.O.M.’ comes closest to the band’s frequent punky exploits, but is still quite thrashy, which is fortunate, as I don’t think punk is the band’s forte. Or anyone’s really. Highlighting the album, however, is the marvellous opening track ‘My Final Bullet’. After its clean intro, the song thrashes along at full speed, but there is something catchy and melancholic to the chorus. Absolutely one of the best opening tracks in a discography that also contains ‘Among The Weirdcong’, ‘Code Red’, ‘Nuclear Winter’ and ‘Agent Orange’. Impressive.

Of course, the album has parts that can be seen as flaws. The production and arrangements are probably too polished and well thought-out for those who prefer Sodom’s earliest work and I personally think Angelripper’s vocals move too much towards actual grunts at times, sacrificing a ton of character, but ‘Epitome Of Torture’ is definitely more evidence of why Sodom is easily the most relevant of the big three of teutonic thrash metal. Even the bonus tracks – the downtuned ‘Waterboarding’ and the dense, knotty ‘Splitting The Atom’ – are very much worth hearing.

Recommended tracks: ‘My Final Bullet’, ‘Invocating The Demons’, ‘Stigmatized’