Archive for the ‘ Music ’ Category

Album of the Week 32-2018: The Magpie Salute – High Water I


Volatile fraternal relationships are nothing new in music. What is quite unusual, however, is that one brother goes on to do something which is at least on par with what made them famous in the first place. The Magpie Salute may just turn out to be one of those instances. After a legal dispute between Chris and Rich Robinson lead to the unfortunate dissolution of The Black Crowes, the latter sounds more focused and inspired than he has in a long time on the first studio album of The Magpie Salute, which also features ex-Crowes Marc Ford and Sven Pipien.

Without Chris Robinson’s hippie mysticism influencing the overall sound, Rich Robinson’s compositions really get the chance to shine. What helps is that singer John Hogg is a revelation. He has a powerful, versatile voice that sounds quite unique during the introspective parts and somewhat reminiscent of Kelly Keeling in his more powerful moments. The music itself is quite reminiscent of The Black Crowes – how could it not? – but more concise and powerful. As a whole, ‘High Water I’ does feel like it rocks a little harder than most of the Crowes’ recent work, but it is every bit as versatile.

Guitar-wise, there is a great deal of respect between Ford and Robinson on ‘High Water I’. They never get in each other’s way and really give each other the chance to excel in their respective specialties. For slide master Ford, the rootsy rocker ‘Take It All’, the acoustic americana of ‘Hand In Hand’ and various moments of pedal steel-like beauty are the obvious moments to shine, while Robinson is more of a master of strong melodic content. The latter was never a showy player in the first place; it is quite obvious that he just wants what is best for the songs.

‘High Water I’ has a remarkably pleasant flow. While each song is different from the others, the sequencing is sublime. That does not mean there aren’t any highlights, of course. ‘High Water’ sounds like it could have been inserted into ‘Led Zeppelin III’ without anyone noticing, as it is acoustic, yet extremely powerful. Closing track ‘Open Up’ works its way from a brooding acoustic riff to a gorgeous climactic harmony in the chorus, while ‘For The Wind’ is a powerful, dynamic epic, ‘Send Me Omen’ is a strong rocker and ‘Sister Moon’ is a gorgeous minor key pop song.

It is too early to tell whether The Magpie Salute will be as good as The Black Crowes, but ‘High Water I’ can certainly be compared favorably to ‘Shake Your Money Maker’ and ‘The Southern Harmony And Musical Companion’. It is basically the album I have been wanting the Crowes to make for at least twenty years with a much better singer to boot. The more concise songwriting certainly contributes to my joy listening to this album, but the greater degree of focus certainly works miracles as well. Sure, it kind of sounds like the Crowes, but definitely on one of their best days.

Recommended tracks: ‘High Water I’, ‘Open Up’, ‘For The Wind’

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Album of the Week 31-2018: Moonspell – Irreligious


Depending on your outlook on music, ‘Irreligious’ is either the album where Moonspell finally got its shit together or the first step into the wrong direction. As a whole, ‘Irreligious’ sounds infinitely more professional than its legendary predecessor ‘Wolfheart’, but it also shifts the focus somewhat away from metal towards gothic. That was never a problem for me, as I tend to prefer the Portuguese band when the goth elements are most pronounced. A majority of these songs are still live staples at Moospell shows, which is a confirmation of the quality songwriting and the fully immersive atmosphere of ‘Irreligious’.

In hindsight, the change from ‘Wolfheart’ to ‘Irreligious’ was not as massive as some extreme metal fans may want you to believe. Some streamlining was really all it took to reach the sound of the latter the likes of ‘Vampiria’ and ‘Love Crimes’. Compositionally, ‘Irreligious’ is more efficient than the debut. These songs certainly are simpler in the sense that they are shorter and contain less riffs, but the arrangements are significantly more thought-out. Fernando Ribeiro’s deep baritone improved considerably in the year between the albums, which is undoubtedly part of the reason why it is much more prominent here.

Hardly any filler can be heard on ‘Irreligious’ and the flow of the album is very pleasant. Part of that is the way the tracklisting is set up. The album consists of a couple of suites that span multiple songs and a handful of stand-alone tracks. Fields Of The Nephilim’s masterpiece ‘Elizium’ was undoubtedly an influence here, given the clear display of inspiration from that album in the many clean guitar lines of Ricardo Amorim. Many may know ‘Opium’ as a powerful goth single, but it actually forms a continuous suite with the desperate ‘Awake!’, the cathartic ‘For A Taste Of Eternity’ and the brooding (and brilliantly titled) intro ‘Perverse… Almost Religious’.

Compared to what came before, ‘Opium’ refuses to let go because of its increased memorability despite lacking an actual chorus. That in itself is one of the greatest redeeming qualities of ‘Irreligious’. The album is basically a never-ending chain of memorable moments. If it’s not an utterly sublime chorus (the album’s most gothic moment ‘Ruin & Misery’, the borderline poppy ‘Raven Claws’), it’s a gorgeous guitar melody (‘Herr Spiegelmann’ has a couple) or the general horror-esque atmosphere of a song (‘Mephisto’, ‘A Poisoned Gift’). ‘Full Moon Madness’ still closes Moonspell’s concerts to this day and it does sort of feel like a mission statement. It is also by far the album’s heaviest, most doom metal-inspired track; don’t let that beautiful clean guitar intro fool you.

While ‘Irreligious’ is considered a gothic metal classic these days – and rightfully so – I can see how the album could have alienated an audience that felt attracted to Moonspell’s black metal roots. Those influences have not completely disappeared on ‘Irreligious’, but the gothic side of the band certainly is more prominent. Those who have acquired the album hoping to find some intricate riffing should be warned: the distorted riffs are fairly simple and there is an abundance of elegant clean guitar parts. Anyone hoping to find a more metallica alternative to The Sisters Of Mercy or Fields Of The Nephilim will certainly find something of their liking here though.

Recommended tracks: ‘Opium’, ‘Ruin & Misery’, ‘A Poisoned Gift’

Interview – Ryoji (Gyze): “The future of heavy metal is in Asia”


By competing in the Wacken Metal Battle, related to the famed Wacken Open Air, Gyze has been one of the few Japanese metal bands that has made something of a career for themselves in Europe. Not that that should be too surprising, as the folky melodic death metal of the trio has quite some common ground with the Finnish metal scene. And yet, through the use of Oriental folk elements, they have their own identity. Recently, their new single ‘The Rising Dragon’ was released internationally. Within this context, we talked with singer, guitarist and keyboard player Ryoji Shinomoto.

We believe that heavy metal has no borders“, Ryoji emphasizes. “We love playing in Japan as well as in Europe. But even within Japan, every city is different. The audience reaction varies from place to place.  I do love playing festivals. The energy at a festival is so different from solo shows. But we always play our best no matter where we are. The only funny difference is that announcements in English are easier to do for me than in Japanese. I always feel nervous speaking in front of an audience in Japanese, haha!
The announcements aren’t the only aspect in which the band has to switch between English and Japanese. Gyze also offers lyrics in both languages. “English is easier for me, because Japanese has a different rhyming technique“, the frontman admits. “Also, English sentences are sometimes much shorter. However, when we decide to use Japanese for the lyrics, I always choose to use difficult characters, archaic words and four character proverb.” Smiling, he adds: “So usually, even Japanese people can’t read our lyrics.
‘Day Of The Funeral’ from our first album, ‘Nanohana’ from our second album or our new single ‘Ryugin’ are like a story from a book, which is easy to write and read. ‘Brown Trout’, ‘Trash My Enemy’, ‘Frozen Dictator’ and ‘Horkew’ are more interesting and difficult lyrically. When people listen to ‘Horkew’, they might here English words there, but actually, the lyrics are totally in Japanese. It happens because I chose words that would sound similar to English to make it more interesting. For instance, “(mita)sarenair” sounds like “silent night”.
Also, we have some themes on our albums. The first album is filled with energy, with songs about revenge, regrets and anger. The second: regrets, sadness, love and war. The third album is about the Ainu people, the indigenous people of Hokkaido. Apart from that, there are human emotions, Japanese gods and, well… Fish! Our new single contains two new songs: ‘Japanese Elegy’ is about war and ‘Ryugin’ is a positive song about Gyze and the future.

Find an audience

Of course, the Ainu are not a random theme; Gyze is also from Hokkaido. Traditionally, this is a difficult area to conquer the music market from even within Japan. “Actually, I never thought about that“, Ryoji admits. “As far as I know, no band from Hokkaido has ever succeded at conquering the international metal market. Moreover, Gyze happened to be the first Japanese bands – not just from Hokkaido – to perform at many world famous festivals. But I love Hokkaido and I am proud that I am from there.
There are not many Japanese bands who dare to tour internationally. “The first reason is that Japanese people can’t or don’t want to use English“, says Ryoji. “Furthermore, Japan is an island country. There is a big cultural difference. But please, listen to as many Japanese bands as you can, then it might become easier for them to find an audience overseas. As long as you listen to Gyze first, of course, haha!
Offering Asian bands a platform has been important to Ryoji for quite some time now. In 2015, Gyze was involved with organizing Vanishing Heaven Fest, which besides Japanese bands also featured bands from Taiwan and South Korea. “Recently, my favorite metal bands are from Asia and Eastern Europe“, Ryoji explains. “The European metal scene consists of the classics. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but the line-ups of festivals and the bands featured in the media are getting a bit predictable. The Asian metal market, however, is just starting to grow. There are a lot of unique and varied bands here. That’s why I believe that the future of heavy metal is in Asia.

Ideal sound

Gyze only has three members. Bassist Aruta Watanabe and Ryoji’s younger brother Shuji complete the line-up. Still, the music has a lot of different elements. Besides the guitars, bass, drums and vocals, keyboards and several traditional instruments can be heard. “On stage, I only play lead guitar“, Ryoji explains. “But on the cd’s, I always want to create the ideal sound. If when composing I feel like using a certain instrument, I will. That’s why we have songs with shamisen, violin, keyboards, harmonic guitars and so on. That ideal sound is not just me of course, because Shuji and Aruta’s sounds are equally important.
I always use the piano for composing and I really care about notes and music theory. First, I check all the notes and tuning by piano. And if I find some odd sounds, I always fix them. Even for the bass. When I just started composing heavy metal, I just relied on my sense. If I felt like the sound was messy, I just deleted the part. Recently, we started checking the bass lines through midi. Aruta and I check the tuning, the scales and the notes of his parts. The same appeals to the drums with Shuji. All these checks and precautions help to avoid turning things into a mess. Especially if we start playing the songs at full speed.
Of course the parts are important, but to really make heavy sounds, speed and melodies sound as one, mixing and mastering is just as important. That is why we are considering remixing our second album to make it sound even better.
For te mix and even the album covers, Gyze has exclusively worked with European engineers and artists thus far. “The funny thing is that we have never worked with Japanese engineers and designers“, Ryoji smiles. “Our first engineer was Ettore Rigotti from Disharmonia Mundi. I was a big fan of his band. Then from the third album on, we started working with Ahti Kortelainen. I love his sound and of course, he has experience with a lot of great heavy metal bands like Sonata Arctica and Kalmah.
All our album covers thus far have been designed by Machine Room (Rhett Podersoo). We were introduced to him by Ettore and his style touched my heart. His works are elegant, gorgeous, unique, modern and powerful. We hope to be able to use his artworks until the end.

Essence

Traditionally, visual kei and the “regular” metal scene are two separate worlds in Japan. And though Gyze is closer to the latter, the band has a number of pronounced visual elements and Ryoji recently shared the stage with Jupiter. “Visual kei is not a music genre, just a style“, he emphasizes. “There is a heavy metal sound in visual kei, but there is a punk sound as well. Gyze doesn’t need to be categorized. If someone wants to label us as visual kei, that’s fine with us. When people listen to our music, everyone can understand within one second that it is heavy metal.
Ryoji’s initial influences were not Japanese bands: “When I was about seven or eight years old, I got a guitar from my father and played classical guitar until junior high school. The first rock band that inspired me was Kiss. I listened to a lot of hard rock and punk until I was about sixteen years old. Later, I started listening to heavy metal. I really enjoyed the essence of heavy metal: the fast tempos, the minor scales, the melodies and the epic feel of such bands as Iron Maiden, Metallica, Megadeth and later on various death metal bands. Around the same time, I also started listening to traditional Japanese pop, world folk and classical music.
Recently, I have mainly been inspired by classical composers like Beethoven, Vivaldi and Chopin. I have even made heavy metal covers of their compositions. I tried to read the original scores and analyze the compositions. I had a really good time working on that. Also, I have been listening to a lot of enka and Eastern European folk lately. Joe Hisashi, Studio Ghibli’s composer, and Ryuichi Sakamoto are very interesting as well, because their music delivers and eastern atmosphere with western musical instruments. I have not really been influenced by much metal lately, but I like a lot of Chinese metal!

A large portion of Gyze’s discography, including the new single ‘The Rising Dragon’, can be streamed through Spotify, iTunes, Deezer, Tidal and other popular streaming platforms.

Gyze is currently on tour through Europe:

August 11th: Leyendas del Rock, Villena, Spain
August 12th: Underworld, London, England
August 13th: Colosseum, Genk, Belgium
August 14th: Backstage, Munich, Germany
August 15th: Summer Breeze, Dinkelsbühl, Germany
August 17th: Turock, Essen, Germany

The original Dutch version of this article can be read at The Sushi Times. Thanks to Mona Miluski at All Noir for setting up the interview.

Album of the Week 30-2018: Volcano – Darker Than Black


‘Darker Than Black’ is Volcano’s fourth original studio album since mid-July 2015. While that may seem a bit excessive, it is also remarkably good. Volcano was always the perfect band for anyone who could not choose between the vicious aggression of thrash metal and the melodic appeal of traditional heavy metal and ‘Darker Than Black’ is no different, though the melodic death metal influences that were prominent a few albums ago have been dialed back considerably. ‘Darker Than Black’ is one of Volcano’s more interesting albums compositionally, though it is just as capable of thrashing your face off when it needs to.

One thing that immediately stands out is that a lot of attention has been given to making the songs instantly recognizable. Every previous Volcano album has its fair share of powerful songs and catchy moments, but at times, some of the non-highlights had a tendency to sound a little too similar. However, no two songs sound alike on ‘Darker Than Black’. This is admirable, because thrash metal can be quite the limiting genre. By subtle changes in tempo, atmosphere and melodic content, the Japanese quartet managed to give each song its own face while retaining their thrashing intensity.

Speaking of atmosphere, two of the album’s most atmospheric moments have surprisingly been composed by bassist Akira. The propulsive ‘Jailbreak Vampire’ has a middle section that would not have sounded out of place on a mid-nineties Scandinavian melodeath album, while closing track ‘Guardian Deity’ immediately becomes one of the album highlights through its heroic melodicism. Guitarist She-ja wrote the rest of the material, with ‘Flight To The World’ possibly being the best opening track Volcano ever released. Classic twin guitar melodies, punishing drum work by the incredible Shun and biting thrash riffs constantly keep each other in perfect balance. And good luck getting that chorus out of your head.

Furthermore, Volcano explores the entire spectrum of heavy metal here. At the most melodic end, there are songs like the classic midtempo heavy metal of ‘Scatter Toxins’ and the relatively open ‘When You Are’, which has a gorgeous, almost bluesy guitar solo. The latter is also true for ‘Arena’, which is the perfect breather for an otherwise rather chaotic song. ‘Horror’ is a very cool riff-driven thrasher closest to the eighties Bay Area tradition, while ‘Great Crisis’ similtaneously houses some of the album’s most extreme as well as some of its most melodic sections. It should not work and yet, it does.

In fact, the entire album works. The only issue have with it is that the mastering job is a nightmare. It isn’t disruptive in every single song, but during some intense double bass sessions, the music distorts. With the songwriting generally being on par with – at times even slightly better than – the better moments of ‘Melt’, that should only be a minor complaint though. Though nothing on ‘Darker Than Black’ may be as instantly catchy as ‘Tokyo Panic’, it feels like this 53-minute collection of carefree thrashing will leave more of a lasting impact, quite likely making it the second best Volcano album after 2001’s incomparable ‘Davi’.

Recommended tracks: ‘Flight To The World’, ‘Guardian Deity’, ‘Horror’

Album of the Week 29-2018: Concerto Moon – Savior Never Cry


In the light of Atsushi Kuze joining Jupiter, his works with Concerto Moon have been receiving more than a few spins in my household. I have been fairly critical of Kuze’s competent, but somewhat Dokken-ish voice in the past, but there is one Concerto Moon album on which he is really pushed to his best performance thus far and that is ‘Savior Never Cry’. Of course, the fact that the band sounds at their heaviest and most aggressive here works miracles as well. The fact that their classy, hardrock-inspired melodicism is not sacrificed is an impressive achievement in its own right.

Somehow, I think I prefer Concerto Moon without a keyboard player. The keys are indispensable for their early progressive hardrock meets neoclassical power metal approach, but on ‘Savior Never Cry’, band leader Norifumi Shima’s riffing takes center stage. His sound appears to be just a tad heavier too, to the point where it’s hard to believe that he’s actually playing a guitar with single coils. This powerful, bottom-heavy sound really pushes Kuze to a performance that foregoes his usual gentle rasp in favor of a throaty, full-force approach that is not too dissimilar to what Yukio Morikawa does with Anthem.

Concerto Moon certainly proves that the first strike is deadly. The opening title track of the album’s predecessor ‘Angel Of Chaos’ was already impressive, but ‘Savior Never Cry’ really has the band firing on all cylinders. Shima’s riffs are thick and tasteful, Masayuki Osada’s drumming is pulsating and punishing and Kuze is inspired to do some of his most intense screaming yet. The rumbling double kick work and heavy riffing is continued on the following ‘Straight From The Heart’, which I consider one of Concerto Moon’s most underrated tracks to date. Its eighties Dio-esque vibe is simply irresistible.

From then on, the album does not get quite as heavy anymore, though the speedy closer ‘Slash The Lies’ – which inexplicably only is a bonus track – comes pretty close. The heaviness is hardly missed though. The fact that Shima (mostly) has to fill his end of the sonic spectrum by himself results in very powerful hardrock and heavy metal tracks like ‘Lay Down Your Life (To Be Free)’, ‘Over The Fear’ and the midtempo ‘In My Dream’. Even the ballad ‘Lovers Again’, often a weak point for Japanese bands, is surprisingly good. Only ‘The Shining Light Of The Moon’ is a little too watered down for my taste.

Norifumi Shima and Concerto Moon were obviously on a roll around the turn of the decade. ‘Angel Of Chaos’ is one of the band’s best albums, but ‘Savior Never Cry’ ups the ante in terms of heaviness, compositional quality and vocal performance. After the release of ‘Savior Never Cry’, Concerto Moon would continue in a somewhat more hardrock-oriented direction. Quite accomplished hardrock too, but after being infatuated with the almost ‘Painkiller’-like intensity of this album’s title track, it’s difficult to settle for something else. ‘Savior Never Cry’ is highly recommended to anyone who longs for the time when hardrock and heavy metal weren’t two separate things yet.

Recommended tracks: ‘Savior Never Cry’, ‘Straight From The Heart’, ‘Slash The Lies’

Album of the Week 28-2018: NoGoD – V


Within the visual kei realm, NoGoD is a bit of an anomaly. With a sound that is a lumpless blend of modern hard rock and heavy metal, they don’t really fit any of the trends that exist in their genre and because they are not a cast full of pretty boys – they are fronted by the clownesque Dancho – their fan base is largely male. With that different take on Japanese rock music, NoGoD is certainly a band to check out for those who are usually discouraged by the visual approach. And there hardly is any better place to start than ‘V’.

Though NoGoD is mainly known for energetic, riffy songs with rather upbeat choruses, ‘V’ is notably darker in tone than any of their other albums. It is also slightly more metallic than their other works, though the catchy bits are almost all arena-worthy in their sing-along glory. The first half ‘IV – Tasha / Philosophia’, the fourth part of a suite that stretches out over four albums, has a stomping 5/4 beat that many of their peers would not dare to attempt and the awesome ‘Sabbath’ is probably the darkest NoGoD song yet. Coincidentally, it is also one of their very best.

In more familiar territory, ‘V’ also shines just a little bit brighter than the rest of NoGoD’s discography. While earlier albums had masterpieces like ‘Kamikaze’, ‘World Ender’ and ‘Kakusei’, ‘V’ just rolls on without ever losing stuff. Sure, the more punky, upbeat songs ‘Kane wo Narase’ and ‘Pandora’ feel a little odd atmosphere wise, but that is easy to accept on an album that also has fist pumpers like the anthemic ‘Stand Up!’ and ‘Zetsubo Bye Bye’. The album is even bookended by two tracks that are surprisingly riffy; the guitar work in opener ‘Utsushiyo Horror Show’ and closer ‘Tosohonno’ is almost speed metal in nature.

Dancho’s voice is the thing that seems to spark most debate amongst people who are not sure if they like NoGoD. While that is understandable – the fact that he is almost exclusively in full-on passionate mode does not account for a lot of dynamics – Dancho is probably the factor that makes NoGoD stand out in a scene full of Kamijo and Gackt soundalikes. I like him a lot. Dynamics and subtlety are built by the tastefully layered interaction between guitarists Kyrie and Shinno. Kyrie even has one of his many acoustic solo pieces here in the shame of ‘Yume No Awa’. A perfect little break between intense songs.

Although the criticism that the visual rock scene is full of bands that blindly copy each other in terms of musical style and appearance is justified, once in a while a band pops up that can truly deliver in terms of originality and playing. While NoGoD doesn’t really do anything new, the band doesn’t really sound like any other band inside of Japan and outisde. And still, despite the fact that their recent albums lean towards modern rock a little too much. If you like great riffs, passionate vocals and a tight rhythm section with a thick bottom end, NoGoD should be right up your alley.

Reccomended tracks: ‘Sabbath’, ‘IV – Tasha / Philosophy’, ‘Stand Up!’

Album of the Week 27-2018: Obscura – Cosmogenesis


With the increasing popularity of nerd culture, it is not too surprising that there has been a veritable boom of technical and progressive death metal bands a couple of years ago. Very few managed to impress me as much as Obscura did, however, as the German quartet seems to forego pointless displays of virtuosity and aim at an immersive atmosphere and a strong sense of melodicism instead. In that regard, ‘Cosmogenesis’ was a breath of fresh air when it was released nine years ago. And though they have consistently released great music since, it is still stands as their best work.

Obscura’s music contains a lot of the elements that made Death such an amazing band a decade and a half earlier, but without deliberately trying to copy Chuck Schuldiner’s work. Sure, frontman Steffen Kummerer has repeatedly admitted to “totally ripping off Death” with ‘Incarnated’, but connaisseurs would never mistake Obscura for Death. The latter obviously laid the groundwork for this type of unpredictable, technically challenging extreme metal with fretless bass work, but the uptempo, insistent twin riffs are a characteristic that is quite unique to Obscura and Death never sounded this spacey. The conceptual focus on German philosophers creates this unique universe as well.

Another thing that makes Obscura favorable to most other bands in their genre is that they understand the concept of dynamics. Hannes Grossmann is technically capable of spending the entire album sounding like he’s falling down the stairs with admirable rhythmic precision, but instead he chooses his moments wisely and lets the music breathe when it has do. ‘Desolate Spheres’, for instance, is a dense song, but suddenly calms down during Christian Münzner’s fusion-esque solo to prepare for the final burst. The instrumental ‘Orbital Elements’ also makes excellent use of strategically placed, more subdued passages.

However, Obscura’s main asset is that they can combine intensity, brutality and technicality without sacrificing even the slightest bit of any of those. Opening track and audience favorite ‘The Anticosmic Overload’ is virtuosic, yet vicious, while there is more happening melodically than on an entire album of most of their peers. ‘Nospheres’ has some of the most violent riffing on the album, but also an incredible middle section with Kummerer and Münzner at their harmonic best, while closer ‘Centric Flow’ has an incredible finale that could just as easily have been on a classic eighties heavy metal record. ‘Incarnated’ could have been on a progressive power metal record, had it not been for Kummerer’s aggressive barks.

Though I often claim that I hate technical death metal, I would not be as averse to the genre as a whole if more bands had an approach similar to Obscura’s. For Obscura, their compositions are not a vehicle for their virtuosity. Rather, virtuosity is a means to increase the power of their songs when needed. The Germans – at the time with a Dutch bassist – are just as comfortable just letting the inherent aggression of their music take the lead. And isn’t that the characteristic that made metal so appealing in the first place?

Recommended tracks: ‘Incarnated’, ‘Centric Flow’, ‘Universe Momentum’

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