Posts Tagged ‘ Hardrock ’

My video interview with Jared James Nichols

Last month, I had the opportunity to interview thumb guitar virtuoso Jared James Nichols for the Aquarium Sessions, an initiative of Gitarist magazine. Nichols had drawn my attention with his debut album ‘Old Glory & The Wild Revival’, initially with the cool blues rock vibe of his song material, but I later find out he had a rather interesting right hand technique that is closer to fingerstyle than anything else really. The result can now be seen on the YouTube channel of the Aquarium Sessions. Definitely worth seeing if you want to know more about Nichols’ signature Blackstar amplifier, his Epiphone Old Glory or his playing technique.

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Album of the Week 22-2019: Rammstein – Rammstein


Rammstein’s first studio album in a decade was bound to cause some controversy. After all, controversy follows the band everywhere they go. Sometimes it’s their provocative – but often really funny – videos and lyrics, but their untitled seventh album may just cause a rift among their fan base. On one hand, the music is Rammstein as one would expect them to be, with their trademark militaristic rhythms and blunt, simple guitar riffs firmly in place. However, as a whole, the album is also notably more melodic than most of their previous material. But is ‘Rammstein’ really worth the wait?

Whether or not that is the case depends on your taste, but I think it is a more than admirable effort. It would have been easy for the band to pump out another typical Rammstein album, but with it being the first one in ten years, they seemed aware of the fact that something different was desired. For the first time ever, the band worked with a different producer than Jacob Hellner, though Olsen Involtini has worked with the band in the past. He seems to favor Christian ‘Flake’ Lorenz’ keyboards, because they are significantly more prominent, though fortunately not at the expense of the guitars.

The first singles may not have given the impression that ‘Rammstein’ would move in a slightly different direction. ‘Deutschland’ and ‘Radio’ are both strong metallic rock songs with anthemic choruses and lyrics clearly rooted in the band’s East German history. The pseudo-symphonic metal of ‘Zeig Dich’ sounds somewhat familiar as well, although that one clearly shows Involtini’s experience as a string aranger. In addition, Till Lindemann’s vocals – which I still think are not as appreciated as they should be by “serious” music media – are allowed a larger range of singing styles and emotional expression than ever before.

Further into the album, the experimentation is turned way up. ‘Was Ich Liebe’, ‘Weit Weg’ and ‘Ausländer’ are among the poppiest Rammstein tracks to date. The latter was initially too electronic for my taste, but it’s a grower. ‘Diamant’ is an absolutely gorgeous acoustically-based ballad. One of the true highlights is ‘Puppe’, which moves from a dark ballad to nightmare fuel with Lindemann going absolutely mental in its chorus. It kind of feels like an even darker stylistic sequel to ‘Stein Um Stein’. The first person perspective child abductor story of ‘Hallomann’ is another brilliant theatrical move with a nice and dirty bass line courtesy of Oliver Riedel.

Out of the more typical Rammstein track, the big, Black Sabbath-infused groove of ‘Sex’ is surprisingly effective. ‘Tattoo’ is lyrically hilarious, but it feels a little lost in the shuffle between all the experimentation going on during the second half of the album. Hardcore fans of the first two albums may scratch their heads upon hearing ‘Rammstein’, but the truth is that the album is a pretty logical progression from everything the band did from ‘Mutter’ onward. The riffs, rhythms and clever, at times laugh out loud funny lyrics are still there. There is just a slightly different polish this time around, which I’d say is a welcome experiment.

Recommended tracks: ‘Puppe’, ‘Zeig Dich’, ‘Hallomann’, ‘Radio’

Album of the Week 19-2019: Rammstein – Reise, Reise


Rammstein is probably the most popular rock band that doesn’t sing in English. And yet, they are also one of the most misunderstood bands in the world. Not alone is the at times hilarious word play in their lyrics lost on people who don’t speak German, but their music is also often perceived as much more aggressive than it actually is. Sure, subtlety was never the band’s strongest feat – something which is even more evident in their massive live shows – but albums like ‘Reise, Reise’ should not be taken at face value. There is more to this record than one might first assume.

In a way, ‘Reise, Reise’ is a logical follow-up to the band’s definitive international breakthrough album ‘Mutter’, which saw the band improving their arrangements significantly. There is still very little complexity in Rammstein’s songwriting, as two or three riffs are the norm for the band, but the productions and orchestrations became notably more sophisticated on those records. In addition, Till Lindemann’s voice really came into its own on ‘Mutter’, and his operatic vocals in particular. These are featured prominently alongside his rawer performances on ‘Reise, Reise’. Put those two together and you end up with a brutally effective album.

Also not unlike ‘Mutter’ is the fact that Rammstein kicks off ‘Reise, Reise’ with a relatively adventurous track in the shape of its title track. The riffs are massive, the chorus larger than live and the nautical theme of the song is captured perfectly by the almost symphonic quality of the arrangement. The fact that I love how the accordion, an instrument I hate with every fiber of my being, is incorporated into the apotheosis says enough. ‘Morgenstern’ employs a similar sound with a particularly dramatic chorus and some delightfully aggressive start-stop riffing, while the brilliantly constructed and particularly intense ‘Keine Lust’ is probably my favorite single of the band to date.

That may just be why ‘Reise, Reise’ is my favorite Rammstein album. It is not radically different from earlier work, the highlights are just a tad better than on every album. Especially ‘Dalai Lama’, which is probably their most flawlessly crafted song to date. The modern interpretation of Goethe’s ‘Erlkönig’ is perfectly expressed by Lindemann’s vocal delivery and Christian ‘Flake’ Lorenz’ keyboards form a perfect melodic contrast with the palm muted precision of guitarists Richard Z. Kruspe and Paul Landers. ‘Amour’ and especially ‘Ohne Dich’ are the band’s first successful attempts at honest power ballads, which makes them the perfect follow-ups to the gruesome moodswings of the excellent ‘Stein Um Stein’.

Sure, ‘Reise, Reise’ is full of simple, metallic downtuned guitar riffs and Christoph Schneider’s at times drum computer-like rhythms never go overboard on tempo and virtuosity, but the music is very clevery and carefully crafted. That was always what lifted Rammstein above their followers in the Neue Deutsche Härte scene and other types of industrial rock music. They have always made their own rules as they went along. How else could you explain something like ‘Los’, which sounds as heavy as the average Rammstein song, only acoustically? ‘Reise, Reise’ is equal amounts recognizable and experimental, which is better than what most successful bands can hope for.

Recommended tracks: ‘Dalai Lama’, ‘Keine Lust’, ‘Morgenstern’, ‘Reise, Reise’

Album of the Week 18-2019: Korol I Shut – Bunt Na Korable


Korol I Shut is widely recognized as one of Russia’s best punk bands. And yet, labelling them punk is seriously selling them short. Sure, the songs are generally short and very energetic, but Korol I Shut’s music is too experimental and melodic to be considered “just” punk. Taking their inspiration from horror punk, but replacing zombies by monsters from Slavic mythology and folklore, they took their music into every possible direction, from folky touches to borderline metal. ‘Bunt Na Korable’ is closer to the latter in its hardcore approach, but Korol I Shut refuses to give up its melodic memorability in the process.

Since Korol I Shut adopts a different approach on just about every album, their records may differ in appeal, but they are hardly effer short of interesting. ‘Bunt Na Korable’ takes two parts hardcore, two parts alternative rock, one part metal and lead guitar melodies that have a strong vibe and combines that into a admirably lumpless blend. Combined with the surprisingly theatrical vocal duo – Andrey Knyazev and the sometimes semi-gothic sounding Mikhail Gorshenyov – and some really strong riff work, ‘Bunt Na Korable’ rates as one of the band’s most consistent releases, along with its considerably more melodic follow-up ‘Prodavets Koshmarov’.

‘Hardkor Po-Russki’ serves as a bit if a mission statement for ‘Bunt Na Korable’. It’s not just the title of this opening tracks, the hard-hitting riffs and the measured aggression of Aleksandr Tsigolev’s drumming also show that this is going to be a relatively propulsive album immediately. The track that best embodies this philosophy, however, is ‘Ispoved Vampira’, which has the fastest palm-muted riffs on the record. Guitarists Aleksandr Leontyev and Yakov Tsvirkunov have an enviable precision that almost pushes the song into thrash metal territory. ‘Inkvisitor’ is even further into it and highly recommended to fans of that particular genre.

When the band goes into a more melodic direction, they are just as convincing. ‘Mest Garri’ was wisely chosen as the single for the album, as it is no less driven than the other tracks, but carried by a handful of strong, slightly melancholic melodies and the rhythms of Tsigolev and bassist Aleksandr Balunov are definitely more roomy than on the faster tracks. ‘Idol’ mixes the two approaches together, while ‘Zvonok’ is almost the Slavic forest version of Kyuss’ more straightforward songs. ‘Severny Flot’, on the other hand, is a downright excellent alternative rock track with reverberating clean guitars and massive chord and melody structures.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the issues of mislabeling a band. Korol I Shut sort of fell victim to that as well. That’s not too say that they are not a punk band at the core, but they have so much more to offer than that. Even ‘Bunt Na Korable’, that not unlike their self-titled album stays relatively close to that punk core, displays some of the most inventive songwriting I have ever heard within the context of a band whose songwriting is not all that complicated.

Recommended tracks: ‘Severny Flot’, ‘Ispoved Vampira’, ‘Mest Garri’, ‘Inkvisitor’

Album of the Week 17-2019: Black Sabbath – Mob Rules


Black Sabbath completely reinvented itself when Ozzy Osbourne left and Ronnie James Dio took over. ‘Heaven And Hell’ turned out to be one of the greatest heavy metal albums of all time and made Sabbath catch up with the blossoming NWOBHM scene with class and conviction. Its follow-up ‘Mob Rules’ is often seen as more of the same. But while the album still mostly relies on the perfect blend of Sabbath’s at the time unprecedented heaviness and Dio’s more melodic hardrock sensibilities, it’s also quite a bit heavier than ‘Heaven And Hell’. ‘Mob Rules’ is an excellent album in its own right.

Looking back, it does seem like remaining original members Tony Iommi (guitar) and Geezer Butler (bass) tried to inject some more of the slow, heavy doom metal (although it was not yet known as such) that Black Sabbath was renowned for in the Ozzy-era back into their sound. Though to be fair, the arrival of new drummer Vinny Appice probably contributed to that as well, as he is a more straightforward power hitter than Bill Ward. I have once seen the album described as Iommi and Dio trying to blow each other off the record and though that description is apt, it also suggests less cohesion than actually can be heard.

‘The Sign Of The Southern Cross’ is far and away the longest and heaviest track on ‘Mob Rules’. It is built upon simple, but monstrous riffs that don’t contain a lot of notes, but wring everything out of those that are there. It also is the perfect rebuttal for the previous statement, as the band leaves plenty of room for Dio’s majestic voice in the verses. This also does wonders for the dynamics of the song. Following it, however, is ‘The Mob Rules’, which injects Sabbath’s music with the savage aggression of the punk era. In a way, ‘Mob Rules’ marries what were the best elements of past and present when the album came out in 1981.

One often heard complaint is that ‘Mob Rules’ follows the sequencing of ‘Heaven And Hell’ a little too closely, but that may originate from staunch critics of the band. Sure, ‘Turn Up The Night’ is stylistically similar to ‘Neon Knights’ – uptempo, powerful and romantic – and tracks like ‘Voodoo’ and ‘Country Girl’ reprise the loose, rocky vibe of the likes of ‘Lady Evil’, but the sound of ‘Mob Rules’ is so characteristic that nobody would mistake them for ‘Heaven And Hell’ tracks. In addition, ‘Falling Off The Edge Of The World’ and ‘Over And Over’ don’t sound like anything Black Sabbath has done before or since. The latter is an impressive doom metal ballad, unlikely as that sounds, and the former an epic heavy metal track that would not sound out of place on one of Dio’s first two albums, had it not been for the main riff that just screams Iommi.

Ultimately, ‘Mob Rules’ does in deed fall somewhat short of ‘Heaven And Hell’. The interlude ‘E5150’ is much too long, especially considering its place on the album, and ‘Slipping Away’ isn’t exactly the most inspired Black Sabbath track to date. Give it some time, however, and the album will proof it has a lot of merit on its own. Some of the songs are quite unique entries into the Black Sabbath catalog and worthy of being heard. There is simply too much good stuff on this record to be dismissed as the lesser Black Sabbath album with Dio.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Sign Of The Southern Cross’, ‘Falling Off The Edge Of The World’, ‘Turn Up The Night’

Album of the Week 13-2019: NoGoD – Proof


With the visual kei scene being as full of rather faceless soundalikes as it is, it’s good to have bands like NoGoD pop up every once in a while. While the band does not use any elements that are all that different from what most bands in the scene are using – modern hardrock, melodic heavy metal, subtle hints of pop punk and J-rock aesthetics – they were always just a bit better than their peers. And with ‘Proof’ being probably the most consistent release NoGoD has released thus far, it rivals ‘V’ as the perfect album to get acquainted with them.

Stylistically, NoGoD is always at risk of being too little of multiple genres to appeal to fans of the respective genres. Approach them with an open mind, however, and you will find a lot to enjoy on ‘Proof’. Dancho is without a doubt one of the best and most unique singers in Japanese rock. Some people are apparently put off by the fact that he is always belting passionately, but I think that is one of his biggest assets. In addition, the rhythm section is rock solid and Kyrie is one of the more creative lead guitarists in the country.

‘Proof’ was preceded by two excellent singles. Selecting single was not always NoGoD’s forte, but they hit the nail on the head this time around. ‘Missing’ is very melodic and elegiac in atmosphere, but at the same time, the riffs are undeniably heavy, which pushes the song out of the power ballad territory it would have been in otherwise. Certainly one of the best songs in the band’s discography. ‘Arlequin’ is a little more uptempo and aggressive. It’s not quite heavy enough to be metal, but there’s a lot of metallic chugging on the lowest strings of the guitar, which is contrasted nicely with the open and catchy chorus.

That is hardly the only catchy moment on ‘Proof’. Opening track ‘Break Out!’ feels like a Japanese spin on the heaviest side of the Foo Fighters, ‘Dreamer’ is a little more aggressive in vocal approach, but just as memorable and ‘Tonight!’ will get stuck in your head no matter what. ‘Proof’ may sound even better when the band adopts a darker approach. The title track inverts NoGoD’s formula by making the verses more positive than its great chorus, ‘Shinkiro’ works its way through multiple climaxes and a wonderfully brooding middle section, while ‘Henrietta’ is surprisingly heavy with some inventive lead guitar work in its chorus. ‘Sendo’ is even the fastest, heaviest moment in the band’s history, bordering on thrash metal.

If you want to know what NoGoD is all about, ‘Proof’ may actually be the best place to start. It is generally slightly darker in tone than most of their other works, but every aspect that makes them the great band they are is here, right down to the fantastic instrumental ‘Kyoji to Tomoni’ and the awesome intro ‘In The Cage…’. Once, in the late seventies and early eighties, there was a time when hardrock and heavy metal weren’t two separate things yet. What NoGoD shows here is there is no need for that to be the case in the 21st century either.

Recommended tracks: ‘Sendo’, ‘Missing’, ‘Proof’

Album of the Week 12-2019: Anthem – Nucleus


Some European label – Nuclear Blast, no less – finally has the balls to release Anthem’s music outside of Japan. Sure, the band needed a set of songs with English lyrics to accomplish an international record deal, but apart from the lyrics, Anthem was always easily one of the more European sounding of all Japanese metal bands. Their first international release ‘Nucleus’ is a collection of re-recorded songs from the last ten albums of the band. As a compilation and an introduction to the band, ‘Nucleus’ works remarkably well and even the transition to English feels suprisingly natural.

For those who don’t know: Anthem is one of the oldest heavy metal bands in Japan and still one of the best. Unlike many contemporary Japanese bands, Anthem does not dazzle you with displays of virtuosity, instead opting for ballsy, riffy metal that is actually heavy and uptempo, but not too fast. This band truly belongs alongside the likes of Accept and Judas Priest in any serious heavy metal collection. The spirited performances and excellent songwriting of the band make Anthem more than just a nostalgia act though. The fact that almost all of these songs have originally been recorded in the 21st century says enough.

Apart from the English lyrics and having Yukio Morikawa on lead vocals instead of original lead singer Eizo Sakamoto on some of these tracks, they really are not that much different from their original versions. I am quite happy that the keyboards have been pushed a little more to the background on tracks like ‘Black Empire’ and the goosebumps-inducing closer ‘Unbroken Sign’, allowing Akio Shimizu’s rhythm guitar to give the songs just a little more force. Producer and engineer Jens Bogren also makes the best out of Isamu Tamaru’s drums, which end up sounding modern, but not triggered to hell and back.

The song selection on ‘Nucleus’ is commendable as well. Sure, with a collection like this one, everyone misses a favorite, but Anthem really did a good job picking the songs that fit Morikawa’s voice best. There’s a few instances where I think Sakamoto did it better, but ‘Ghost In The Flame’, ‘Echoes In The Dark’, ‘Eternal Warrior’ and the aforementioned ‘Unbroken Sign’ almost appear to be written for Morikawa, while he wasn’t even in the band when they were originally released. The sequencing is done really well, as the album flows like a new studio record rather than a loose collection of songs.

It is good to see Anthem try their hand at conquering the European market almost four decades after bassist and main songwriter Naoto Shibata started the band. Everyone who enjoyed Accept’s post-reunion material will undoubtedly like ‘Nucleus’ as well, but in fact, every fan of traditional heavy metal should give the band a chance. High import prices are no excuse anymore. Anthem has more good riffs and memorable choruses than the average young power metal band and the rhythms are never less than extremely powerful. Hopefully this will not be their last European release.

Recommended tracks: ‘Immortal Bind’, ‘Unbroken Sign’, ‘Echoes In The Dark’

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