Album of the Week 40-2017: Anthem – Bound To Break


Back in 1987, heavy metal did not get much better than ‘Bound To Break’. It meant the beginning of Anthem’s long-standing relationship with British producer Chris Tsangarides and whether it was his influence or not, the band ended up sounding more focused and streamlined than ever, finally fulfilling the potential displayed on their first two albums without sacrificing any of the hungry energy of those records. Though ‘Bound To Break’ was the finale for Eizo Sakamoto’s first tenure with Anthem, he sings much better here than on the two predecessors. All of these elements result in what can be considered the definitive Anthem album.

While Loudness was the most successful of the classic heavy metal bands from Japan, Anthem had the most ballsy sound. Their uncomplicated, but not too simple brand of heavy metal was built upon the strong rhythmic foundation of drummer Takamasa ‘Mad’ Ohuchi and bassist and main songwriter Naoto Shibata, upon which Hiroya Fukuda built his riffs, that vary from pumping chords to classic beefed-up hard rock riffs. As stated before, Sakomoto improved considerably before the recordings of ‘Bound To Break’. His performance is still raw-edged and passionate, but he gained a range that he would further expand when he returned to Anthem around the turn of the century.

Many bands could learn a lesson from how Anthem streamlined its sound and somehow ended up sounding heavier instead of watered down here. The opening title track, for instance, is not that different from what the band did prior to this album, but there is a sheen to the song that lifts the track to its classic masterpiece status. The rest of the record varies from powerful midtempo stompers (‘Machine Made Dog’, Headstrong’, ‘Show Must Go On!’) to speedy adrenalin rushes (‘Empty Eyes’, ‘No More Night’, ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Survivor’). No ballads or crossover hit attempts; ‘Bound To Break’ is Anthem’s mission statement.

Almost every track on this record is a winner, but none more so than the classy melodic heavy metal of ‘Soldiers’. Due to the somewhat more melodic nature of Fukuda’s minor key main riff, the song is reminiscent of their early classic ‘Shed’, only even better. Through the melodies and the calmer middle section, Shibata really succeeded at creating a dramatic feeling of defeat on the battlefield here. Truly one of Anthem’s crowning achievements. Closing track ‘Fire ‘n’ The Sword’ adapts a similar approach, albeit it in a somewhat more aggressive and straightforward fashion.

Since ‘Bound To Break’ even created some minor interest in the west – the live album ‘The Show Carries On!’ from the same year was recorded in Los Angeles – so it is safe to say that Anthem is not one of those “only in Japan” bands. This is timeless, solid, honest and simply excellent heavy metal in the best Judas Priest and Accept tradition. Heavy metal that makes sure the bottom end is secure before adding showy frills on top. Though Anthem is quite likely the most consistent band in the Japanese heavy metal scene, ‘Bound To Break’ is one of the absolute peaks in their career.

Recommended tracks: ‘Soldiers’, ‘Bound To Break’, ‘Empty Eyes’

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Queens of the Stone Age in Gitarist


Though the Queens of the Stone Age are notoriously secretive about their gear, I was given the chance to chat with Troy Van Leeuwen and Dean Fertita about the recordings of their new album ‘Villains’. The article I have written as a result of this interview is published in both Gitarist and Music Maker this month. They still didn’t give a lot of specifics about the particular equipment – though Van Leeuwen was quite happy to share a few things – I was proved with a nice glimpse into their recording process, which makes the article an interesting read, if I say so myself. Both magazines are in stores right now!

Gitarist also contans an interview I had with front man Joe from Belgian speed metal band Evil Invaders about their somewhat surprising new album ‘Feed Me Violence’. Also, if you’re into jazz in all of its forms, make sure you check out bass magazine De Bassist this month, as it contains an article I have written based on my interview with Benjamin J. Shepherd. No, not the Soundgarden bassist, but he is an incredible bass player – on double bass as well as both fretted and fretless electric bass – and a very enthusiastic guy, basically guaranteeing a fun read.

Album of the Week 39-2017: Galneryus – Ultimate Sacrifice


A new Galneryus album is always something to look forward to, even though it seemed highly unlikely that they would exceed the quality of ‘Under The Force Of Courage’. Unlikely, but not impossible, as ‘Ultimate Sacrifice’ proves. The record is a continuation of the concept on its predecessor, but it updates the formula of that album in a way that makes ‘Ultimate Sacrifice’ feel like a fresh, new experience, even though it’s the same euphoric, warp speed power metal that we have come to expect from the Japanese quintet. It has just been offset with some darker and more progressive elements.

Initially, the latter half of the album appealed to me significantly more than the former, something which is still true about ‘Under The Force Of Courage’ for me. In this case, it is mainly the presence of ‘Rising Infuriation’ and ‘Brutal Spiral Of Emotions’. While the former is a showcase for keyboard player Yuhki’s love for progressive metal – Symphony X most notably – and quite likely the darkest moment of the record, the latter is structured in a way that is rather atypical for Galneryus: a crazy, virtuosic beginning, some of the band’s heaviest riffing in the middle and a passionate ballad in the end.

There are a few real gems among the first few tracks though. First of all, Galneryus has once again created an intro track that counts as one of the highlights of the album (‘Enter The New Age’) and it evolves into ‘Heavenly Punishment’, which after a few spins turned into one of my favorite Galneryus openers. In many ways, it is typical for them, but it is just a tad more aggressive and melancholic than their usual openers. ‘Wings Of Justice’ has a vicious intro and verse that bring to mind Rhapsody’s ‘Holy Thunderforce’ and the middle section of ‘The Shadow Within’ is simply to die for.

Galneryus usually shines when they combine their trademark sound with a fresh approach. ‘Wherever You Are’ turns out to be a great melodic hardrock tune in the vein of ‘Shining Moments’ with one of Syu’s most incredible guitar solos near the end and not the typical Galneryus ballad. That one is still here, but it’s hidden in the final six minutes of ‘Brutal Spiral Of Emotions’. Anyone looking for the “Galneryus sound” will be pleased by the twelve minute title track that closes the album. It works its way through a number of climaxes – including one where a raw-throated Syu takes over the microphone from soaring siren Masatoshi Ono – before leaving you wanting to turn the album on again.

The fact that Galneryus is one of the most beloved Japanese power metal bands, even outside of Japan, where their albums are not even available on cd, should not be much of a surprise anymore. The band is simply a tad better than its international competition in every way: their choruses are slightly more powerful, Syu has just a little more emotion in his shredding, Ono soars just a bit more powerfully… All of this results in a type of power metal that is not lacking any power, but neither does it leave anything to be desired in terms of melody, energy and slight progressive touches. One of the metal highlights of the year.

Recommended tracks: ‘Rising Infuriation’, ‘Heavenly Punishment’, ‘Brutal Spiral Of Emotions’

Album of the Week 38-2017: Childish Gambino – “Awaken, My Love!”


Some people are so talented that it is borderline ridiculous. Donald Glover is one of those people. He first came to my attention as an actor in my favorite tv series ‘Community’, but is an outstanding comedian and writer himself and (as Childish Gambino) an interesting rapper and – as “Awaken, My Love!” proves – even a fine singer. With his trusted musical partner Ludwig Göransson – who also worked on ‘Community’ as the series’ main composer – he put together a surprising record full of psychedelic soul with hints of neo-soul and modern R&B. The hiphop influence is minimal, but that does not make the album any less impressive.

The closest reference for the sound on “Awaken, My Love!” is obviously Funkadelic. There are fuzzy guitars, spacey vibes and a production that sounds quite similar to that band’s mid-seventies heyday all over the record, but the record is more than a George Clinton tribute – despite prominently featuring a sample from ‘Good To Your Earhole’ in the frenzied masterpiece ‘Riot’. For starters, “Awaken, My Love!” is considerably more consistent than any Funkadelic record both in style and quality. In addition, there are some songs that can be considered a departure from the futuristic retro funk – I don’t know if that’s a thing – that defines the album.

First single ‘Redbone’ may be the most distinct example. With Glover’s falsetto – which I swore was pitchshifted until I saw a live performance of the song – over a smooth, sexy soul groove, memories of Prince are never far away. ‘California’ sounds incredibly sunny – maybe a little too sunny for a record with such a dark vibe – and the low-key ‘Terrified’ and the gorgeous closer ‘Stand Tall’ really bring to mind some of the Soulquarians productions of the late nineties, while the clavinet in ‘Baby Boy’ reminds me of a few of Allen Toussaint’s productions from the early seventies.

When “Awaken, My Love!” is in full psychedelic soul mode, however, the album is at its best, especially with the amount of variation on display here. Sometimes it’s a monstrous groove (‘Boogieman’), sometimes it’s the slow build up (the gorgeous ‘The Night Me And Your Mama Met’, which features Gary Clark Jr. on guitar) followed by a sudden burst of energy (opening track ‘Me And Your Mama’), but there is always something that gives the songs an idenity of their own. Glover’s vocal prowess is impressive too. Sometimes I think his acting background may contribute to his dramatic readings, most clearly on the awesome ‘Zombies’.

Although Glover – or Childish Gambino – was primarily known as a rapper in the world of contemporary music, “Awaken, My Love!” truly shows how much the guy has to offer. The album is a work of art that took me completely by surprise and sounds like a pretty spontaneous effort by Glover and Göransson to capture a certain vibe rather than desperately trying to fulfill certain expectations. This is truly progressive and forward-thinking music, despite the strong retro vibe on the record. And the sense of dynamics heard here is simply incredible. Highly recommended to fans of all genres and artists mentioned in this review.

Recommended Tracks: ‘Riot’, ‘Zombies’, ‘Boogieman’

Album of the Week 37-2017: Fields Of The Nephilim – Elizium


Some bands go out while they’re on top. Goth masters Fields Of The Nephilim was one of those bands. ‘Elizium’ is a masterpiece that was far ahead of what any other band in the genre – even The Sisters Of Mercy – were doing at the time. The album has a dark, ethereal atmosphere that makes listening to it an incredibly immersive experience. Maybe working with Andy Jackson, famous for engineering Pink Floyd, has contributed to the flawless production on the record, but the incredible song material and Carl McCoy’s cleaner and all around better performance should all be credited to the band.

While containing eight tracks, ‘Elizium’ really consists of four long suites, the longest – and best – two being split up into several parts. I would not be too surprised if this was an attempt to trick the record company into believing the album was more commercially attractive, but this album is not about singles. It is about setting a certain mood that the listener cannot help but being carried away on. The psychedelic, in deed Floyd-ish elements that were always in the sound of Fields Of The Nephilim are somewhat amplified here without sacrificing their dark, sometimes twisted goth roots.

Fields Of The Nephilim never was a band with songs in which a lot happens, but ‘Elizium’ really lifts their art of slowly and carefully layering and deconstructing parts to a new level. Their sense of dynamics is impeccable here as well. Though I have a strong preference for the slow, moody, almost depressive sections, a passage like ‘At The Gates Of Silent Memory’ would not work anywhere near as well if it was not surrounded by more uptempo, yet equally dark moments like ‘For Her Light’ and ‘(Paradise Regained)’. Likewise, ‘Submission’ comes alive due to a few histrionic lead guitar climaxes.

The 14-minute diptych that closes the album is some of the most beautiful music I have ever heard. Again, not much happens here; Tony Pettitt only changes his bass riff when ‘Wail Of Sumer’ morphs into ‘And There Will Your Heart Be Also’ and even then the difference is not that big. There is a climax where you expect the riff to go to a G, but it ends up going to an E instead and there are some simple, but heart-wrenchign solos, but it moves along at a similar pace for its entire playing time. And still, this suite grabs you and will not let you go until it is over. There is a sense of post-apocalyptic romanticism in it which really profits from the fact that McCoy dropped the gruff take on Andrew Eldritch and went for something truly original. Not the most uplifting music in the world, but so profoundly beautiful…

As much as I have written about the genius of ‘Elizium’, it truly has to be heard – or rather experienced – to be believed. It takes gothic rock far beyond its post-punk roots, but nowhere near the fusion with metal it would soon meet, not in the last place because of McCoy’s own Nefilim project. Though the album does not really do anything radically different than the past works of Fields Of The Nephilim – the middle section of ‘Sumerland (What Dreams May Come)’ has Pettitt working with a delay effect on his bass part not unlike the brillian 1989 single ‘Psychonaut’ – it just highlights a few of the best elements of the band. The band split up not long after the release of ‘Elizium’, which still stands as one of the ultimate goth rock albums ever.

Recommended tracks: ‘And There Will Your Heart Be Also’, ‘Wail Of Sumer’, ‘For Her Light’

Album of the Week 36-2017: Merry – M-Ology


‘M-Ology’ is the album I have been wanting Merry to make for about a decade. While I really liked ‘Nonsense Market’ (2014), everything about ‘M-Ology’ points at a total throwback to the days of ‘Modern Garde’ (2004). While such a “return to the roots” is a strained move for many bands, Merry never strayed from their original path too much. They just explored the heavier edges of their sound to a point where they sort of buried the retro aspects that made their sound so unique and appealing. Now that these are back at the forefront, Merry’s new album is a brilliant work of “retrock”.

Those who are unfamiliar with Merry are probably better off listening to their music than reading a description, as the quintet plays a fairly rich cocktail of styles. Genre-wise, this is definitely J-rock, but there are jazzy rhythms amplified by Nero’s hard-hitting drum style, afterbeat ska chords and rockabilly-ish themes on the guitar, a punky energy and a bunch of vaudevillian melodies that pop up now and then. If that sounds like an impossible combination: that’s what yours truly thought too, until he actually heard the music. Merry’s songs are busy and bristling with energy, but always recognizable and well-crafted.

Prior to the announcement of the album, the singles for ‘M-Ology’ already made me look forward to the album. ‘Happy Life’, released over two years ago, is an excellent upbeat rock song with a chorus filled with the hopeful melancholy that characterizes a lot of Merry’s best material. ‘Heijitsu No Onna’ balances on the line between ballad and light rock song, but it was ‘Kasa To Ame’ that won me over. Built upon a not too complicated, but brilliantly brooding bass line courtesy of Tetsu, this song displayed the Merry that stole my heart so many years ago. The song is also a masterclass in musical climaxes.

Album highlight ‘Inugata Shinsei Masochist’ is the song whichI thought would be the next single, due to its goosebumps inducing arena rock intro and marvellous chorus, but apparently, the band went for the title track, which after a delightfully chaotic intro develops into a song that evokes a feeling of nostalgia. Other notable tracks are the remarkably upbeat punk polka of ‘Black Flag Symptom’, the overwhelming weirdness of ‘Mass Control’ and ‘F.J.P’, a song that amplifies everything that makes Merry such a great band to begin with.

Where ‘Nonsense Market’ saw Merry reconnecting with their core sound a little, ‘M-Ology’ sees them diving head first into it. Gara’s screams, shouts and grunts can be great means to emphasize an angry passage of a song, I prefer the focus on catchy melodies he employs here. As always, Kenichi and Yuu are great at crafting guitar melodies that either dance around each other or build upon each other’s heaviness and Tetsu and Nero are among the best rhythm sections in Japan, with the latter having an intuitive, playful style which makes him my favorite Japanese drummer. This may sound like an exaggerated amount of praise, but since ‘M-Ology’ can rival ‘Modern Garde’ and ‘Peep Show’ as Merry’s best album, I think the praise is more than deserved.

P.S.: Included in the “B type” of the album is the best bonus dvd that ever came with a Merry album. Filmed at what looks like the same location as the first ‘Many Merry Days’ dvd’s and produced with a somewhat cinematic look, I am sort of sad that as a European, I cannot obtain the full show that comes with the fanclub edition of the album. Still, these five songs are performed incredibly.

Recommended tracks: ‘Inugata Shinsei Masochist’, ‘Kasa To Ame’, ‘M-Ology’, ‘Happy Life’

Album of the Week 35-2017: Living Colour – Shade


With ‘Shade’ only being the third album in the 17 years since Living Colour reformed – and the first in eight years – expectations were high. What exactly I expected, I don’t actually know, but it certainly wasn’t an album that sounds as raw and “live” as ‘Shade’ does, as ‘Collideøscope’ and ‘The Chair In The Doorway’ were both albums with a notable emphasis on the production. This shift in approach has pros and cons, which makes ‘Shade’ a bit of a confusing record, but it is a fact that Living Colour hasn’t made a record this lively since their early nineties heyday.

There is a bit of a drawback here, as the looser arrangements sacrifice a bit of memorability of Living Colour’s earlier work. None of these choruses will stay with you as long as ‘Cult Of Personality’ did. In addition, some of the songs are just too long. The bluesier tracks ‘Invisible’, ‘Who’s That’ and the Robert Johnson cover ‘Preachin’ Blues’ in particular outstay their welcome, all of which would have been fine tracks had they been a minute and half shorter. Especially the unlikely marriage of New Orleans music and grooving heavy metal riffs on ‘Who’s That’ is interesting enough.

However, ultimately ‘Shade’ is a successful album. There are not many hard rock bands that groove as mercilessly as Living Colour does, as evidenced by songs like the excellent ‘Program’ and the Notorious B.I.G. cover – no, seriously – ‘Who Shot Ya’. ‘Come On’ seems to successfully blend the visceral live feel and the more produced nature of the previous two records and ‘Always Wrong’ sort of shifts back and forth between a psychedelic rock song based on a driving bass line by Doug Wimbish and a power ballad. Again, the combination of styles seems unlikely, but works miraculously well. And that is, of course, Living Colour’s trademark.

Moreover, the album takes an interesting turn about halfway through. There are a bunch of really cool experimental tracks on the second half of the record, starting with ‘Blak Out’, which seems to have developed from a dubby jam of Wimbish and drummer Will Calhoun until Vernon Reid’s massive guitar riff takes over. Reid also really shines on the dreamy, almost spacey closing track ‘Two Sides’. And to keep that part of the album from losing itself in experimentation, there are heavier tracks like ‘Pattern In Time’ and ‘Glass Teeth’ to restore the balance. The latter in particular is an awesome track, even with its borderline silly chorus.

In the end, there is an excellent 40 minute record in ‘Shade’. The only problem is that it is almost ten minutes longer. The performances are as good as you would expect from this group of geniuses. Corey Glover still sings as good as he did on ‘Vivid’ almost three decades ago and Vernon Reid has a surprisingly bluesy, melodic approach here. It’s amazing how much he still sounds like himself even without all the atonality he has extensively toyed with. Avid fans of Living Colour can blindly purchase ‘Shade’. Casual fans may want to give it a listen before purchasing.

Recommended tracks: ‘Blak Out’, ‘Two Sides’, ‘Glass Teeth’