Posts Tagged ‘ Heavy Metal ’

Album of the Week 43-2017: Lovebites – Awakening From Abyss


After their excellent ‘The Lovebites EP’, I was expecting Lovebites’ debut album to be goot, but not this ridiculously good. In short, ‘Awakening From Abyss’ is the only album that can rival Firewind’s ‘Immortals’ as the best metal album from 2017. The record is chock-full of energetic riffs, blazing lead guitar work, pounding drums and passionate vocals. What more can you desire from a heavy metal album? Very little in deed. This Japanese quintet combines traditional heavy metal and contemporary power metal in an incredible manner and they seem hellbent on world domination. Song material this good certainly deserves to be heard worldwide.

On their EP, Lovebites excelled in dynamic and catchy, yet surprisingly inricate power metal with a powerful, rather unpolished production. The guitars are thick and raw and the incredible voice of relative newcomer Asami is one of the main attractions of this band. For ‘Awakening From Abyss’, the band has continued and enhanced this approach. At times, they end up sounding surprisingly aggressive. Songs like ‘Warning Shot’ and ‘Burden Of Time’ have a distinct Motörhead-ish vibe in the riff department, while several tracks combine recognizable choruses with riffs that angrily pound through the speakers.

No track combines those two extremes quite as deliciously as opening track ‘The Hammer Of Wrath’. After a brooding, vaguely Middle-Eastern sounding guitar melody, the song is an ongoing assault of vicious riffs and memorable melodies, which is exactly what one could wish from a heavy metal track. It is hardly the only highlight of the record though. ‘Shadowmaker’ has everything it takes to be a modern day power metal classic – that dramatic chorus is incredible – and ‘Don’t Bite The Dust’ is everything that classic metal bands aspire to be these days. On the lighter side – only slightly though – there are the epic semi-ballad ‘Edge Of The World’ and the gripping, haunting melodies of ‘Liar’.

It is impressive how the members of Lovebites combine their impressive skills and end up sounding significantly better than even the sum of their parts. Guitarists Midori and Mi-Ya are all over the album with high octane riffs and impressive solos, even throwing in a few awesome trade-offs like the one near the end of ‘Scream For Me’. Haruna tackles simple beats with the same conviction as busy parts and fills and though bassist Miho is not on the foreground, her aggressive right hand attack gives the music the balls it needs.

Then there is Asami’s golden throat. Her range is lower and more powerful – and as a result, more pleasant to listen to – than that of most Japanese singers, though she occasionally proves to be just as forceful in the higher regions. Honestly, ‘Awakening From Abyss’ is one of those albums that leaves absolutely nothing to be desired. It’s a boiling, dynamic and incredibly overwhelming stew of several eras of heavy and power metal. I haven’t heard many contemporary metal albums this good in a while. And due to their deals with JPU Records in Europe and Sliptrick Records in North-America, the whole world has the chance to get acquainted with the music of these ladies. I suggest that you’ll do so.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll just go and pick up my jaw from the floor.

Recommended tracks: ‘Awakening From Abyss’, ‘Shadowmaker’, ‘Burden Of Time’

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Album of the Week 42-2017: Black Sabbath – Master Of Reality


If Black Sabbath’s self-titled debut was the birth of heavy metal, their third record ‘Master Of Reality’ is where the genre reaches adolescence. It retains some of its youthful mistakes – most prominently Ozzy Osbourne’s rather dull vocal lines, something which would not improve until ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’ – but improves upon a lot of them as well. Despite its flaws, ‘Master Of Reality’ is an album that still sounds fresh and relevant today and the most important reason for that is the fact that Black Sabbath perfects its own intention on this record; the album is full of mighty riffs.

Nowhere is the power of the riff more apparent than on the massive closer ‘Into The Void’. It is Black Sabbath’s first encounter with the C# tuning – for non-musicians: one and a half step lower than standard tuning – and it has been a successful one. Many heavy metal riffs have been written since that intro, including a number of particularly fine ones by Black Sabbath themselves, but none has ever quite surpassed the thick, heavy majesty of this track’s intro. And that’s not even the only brilliant riff in the song. ‘Into The Void’ is probably the song that captures the essence of early Black Sabbath best.

There are many more songs to enjoy here, although the record really only has six songs if you subtract the two acoustic instrumentals. ‘Children Of The Grave’ is easily one of Black Sabbath’s finest compositions. The driving shuffle rhythm, Tony Iommi’s simple, but brutally effective riffs and Osbourne’s first truly decent performance form one of the band’s most exuberant compositions, even though it’s not particularly upbeat. ‘After Forever’ is quite a surprise upon first listen due to some unexpected twists and the incredibly downbeat ‘Solitude’ is one of the very few successful Black Sabbath ballads.

While the band was often berated for their dark lyrics, they are nowhere near as dark as they are made out to be. ‘After Forever’ and ‘Lord Of This World’ – another riff monster with surprisingly good vocals – are the most overtly religious lyrics that bassist Geezer Butler had written up to this point. In fact, the only more obviously christian lyrics in my collection are in Stryper songs. It does give the songs a unique character though. In contrast, I could do without the overt ode to pot that is opener ‘Sweet Leaf’, but at least Iommi’s riffs make it a worthwhile song.

Early Black Sabbath really triumphs over later work by the band because of the musical interaction between the members. Butler and drummer Bill Ward occasionally get a little jazzy, though ‘Master Of Reality’ is really the album where they started getting very bottom heavy. Butler’s right hand attack lacks even the vaguest hint of subtlety, but that is exactly what gives Iommi’s guitar work the balls it would not have had otherwise. Sure, Black Sabbath has made albums that are more interesting musically or more memorable melodically, but if anyone ever wanted to know why early Black Sabbath was so hugely influential, ‘Master Of Reality’ is the album to put on.

Recommended tracks: ‘Children Of The Grave’, ‘Into The Void’, ‘Lord Of This World’

Interview: Yoshiki’s new ways to express himself


Picture courtesy of YSK Entertainment

Call him dedicated or call him reckless. You would probably be correct either way. X Japan drummer, pianist and band leader Yoshiki severely damaged his neck due to his intense drumming style to the point that he needed neck surgery. In fact, since the last time I sat down with Yoshiki, he had surgery again, this time to replace a disc in his neck with an artificial alternative. While he appears to be more conscious of the health risks of his playing style than ever, he is also driven to pick up drumming again. If only to promote the new X Japan album, that he has been working on for years now.

It feels weird. I had neck surgery several years ago, but then they carved a bone to make a little space between the bones“, Yoshiki explains his most recent surgery. “This time, a disc in my neck was completely worn out, so they had to put plastic and metal into my neck. It was a big operation. Last time, they went through the back of my neck. This time, they went through the front. They had to pull the vocal cords aside and place the artificial disc. It’s a pretty intense surgery.
Is it a definitive thing or did the doctor give you an estimation of when you can play again?
The way I play drums is not good for my health. Period. That’s what my doctor said. So I just have to find a way to play drums the healthy way. There are some things I have to focus on. First off: headbanging is bad. At some point, people have to stop doing that. I guess I have reached the epitome. It brought me to this position: I had two neck surgeries. So we have to find a different way to express ourselves. Not only the artists, also the audience. Otherwise, we’re all going to have neck surgery in the end.
What’s your physical therapy like these days?
It is focused on building muscles in my neck. My nervous system is already damaged though. Luckily, my motor skills are still fine, so I can move my hands. But because of the nerve damage, I can’t really feel anything properly anymore. There’s always a burning sensation in my hand. It’s very uncomfortable. A terrible feeling. So I just have to find a different way to express myself. Without headbanging.
Does your situation impact your compositions at all, in the sense that you adapt what you write to what you can play?
Fortunately, I finished every single drum track for the upcoming album before surgery. But as of now, I can’t play drums. That’s what the doctor said: no more drums. The way I play drums is just too much, but I’m trying to find a way to go back to the stage as a drummer. Then I’ll play as hard as I can, as soon as I can. But believe it or not: the day after the surgery, I was already in the studio. There are things I can still do. Some editing, for instance.
Ever since we started working on the album, I haven’t really stopped. Even when we were doing the Wembley show back in March; I was in London doing some interviews and preparing for the concert, but I also booked a recording studio and I was also working on the new album. And I thought about it, since I’m in Europe now, to see if I had some extra time. I would like to keep recording. But my schedule is really tight, so I couldn’t do it this time.

Picky

Yoshiki already addressed the elephant in the room himself: the new X Japan album, their first studio album since the 1996 release ‘Dahlia’. “Pretty much all tracking is done. There is one more song I need to play piano to and I’m just adding a last touch, by means of sound effects or guitar effects or something like that. Vocal tracking is done, even the strings – we have recorded an orchestra – are done. So now I just have to find the time to go back to the studio and finish it. I’m trying to have it done by the end of this year.
Is the oldest material still up to your own quality standards after so much time?
Good question… I think so. I mean, I like it. It’s really hard for me to say I like the songs, because I’m super picky, but I think this album is going to be amazing.
Have you found the right label for the release of this album yet?
Most likely it will be Sony Records. Worldwide. I think the whole world will get it at the same time.
Is Extasy Records (Yoshiki’s own label, originally founded to release X Japan’s albums) still active at all?
Yes and no. As of now, I’m planning on producing artists, but I just have to concentrate on finishing X Japan’s album before I do any other things. Also, I have so much promotion and so many interviews to do for the ‘We Are X’ film, so I’m trying to find the time. I always have people looking for artists. Actually, I get a demo pretty much every day. Sometimes I’m really overwhelmed by what I hear. But it’s so hard for me to find the time to even produce now. So unless it is someone extremely good… Well, even then I would probably introduce them to some label or something.

Interest

If the documentary ‘We Are X’, which is in theaters now, shows anything, it is that the Japanese music industry is something that is almost impossible to imagine for westerners. There are superstars in Japan that hardly anyone in the west has ever heard of. Yoshiki does note an increase in interest in X Japan now that the movie is out: “The added interest is great, but we dit not make this film for that kind of purpose.
A lot of Japanese bands make a very clear distinction between their indie days and their major days. You have been in both situations. Are the differences really that big?
I don’t know. Of course, during our indies era, we had no director, no producers, no label telling us what to do. It was all about us. When we signed to a label, suddenly there were a lot of people telling us what to do. And sometimes that was great advice, sometimes it was not. But basically it is still you. You are making this music, so in essence, I don’t think it’s not that different.
Are there any projects you are working on at the moment?
I’ve been working with Marilyn Manson on a project of the two of us, but first I need the finish the new X Japan album. Also I’m working on a new classical album. Piano and a symphony orchestra, something like that.
Would you ever consider making a follow-up to ‘We Are X’?
I don’t know. We’re always filming, so there’s always enough material and there’s always a chance that there will be something else. But as of now, we are trying finish recording our new album. If anything comes out, it will definitely be after our new album. I’m pretty sure it will be released next spring.
Can I hold you to that?
Yes.

Dutch readers can watch ‘We Are X’ on Picl.

Album of the Week 41-2017: Saber Tiger – Timystery


Before Saber Tiger was fronted by the passionate howls of Takenori Shimoyama, they made a couple of excellent albums with Yoko Kubota, an impressive singer in her own right, at the helm. This was the time when the Japanese quintet started incorporating progressive elements into their music, slowly morphing from an above average heavy metal band to the amazing band they are today. ‘Timystery’ is one of those albums that does everything just right. The compositions are better and the musical interaction is more cohesive than ever before. And though it would turn out to be Kubota’s last album with the band, she really comes into her own here.

‘Timystery’ finds Saber Tiger streamlining the progressive touches that were on the foreground on its direct predecessor ‘Agitation’. As a result, ‘Timystery’ feels a little more like ‘Invasion’, Kubota’s 1992 debut with the band, but there is some more musical class hidden beneath the surface. In essence, the album is exactly what you would have expected from Saber Tiger at this point in their career: energetic songs, huge beefy riffs and recognizable choruses, but the songs take a few surprising twists. Also, it is Saber Tiger’s first album that features English lyrics exclusively.

Fortunately, these lyrics go beyond the usual English catchphrases surrounded by poor grammar that Japanese bands revelled in at the time. I don’t know if Kubota had any help, but her English is decent enough and the songs actually have topics. There is a lot of relational material and lyrics about trust issues, but they work. Sometimes even surprisingly well: every aspect of ‘Bad Devotion’ is flawless. The start-stop riffs and dynamics of the song really enhance the story of a woman trying to get back on her feet, while every section of the song is a new climax, culminating in the solo section, which is both virtuosic and goosebumps-inducing.

Of course, no one needed to worry about the qualities of the musicians; Akihito Kinoshita and Yasuharu Tanaka are likely the best guitar duo in the business, Takashi Yamazumi is a bassist who makes the most of his moments, but also has no problem holding down the bottom end and Yoshio Isoda is solid as a rock. That musicianship is what lifts songs like the highly rhythmic ‘Living On In The Crisis’, the relatively heavy opener ‘No Fault / No Wrong’, the pleasantly melodic ‘Distressed Soul’, the pounding ‘Revenged On You’ and the highly dynamic ‘Easy Road To Life’ above their obvious compositional quality.

Saber Tiger truly struck gold on ‘Timystery’. They found the perfect balance between progressive metal – the unconventional rhythms of the lengthy closer ‘Spiral Life’ are easily the most “proggy” moment of the record – and traditional heavy metal, creating something that may appeal to fans of both genres. The album contains several of the best songs the band has ever made and it would take more than fifteen years before the band would top it. Albums this consistent are a rarity, especially in the mid-nineties metal scene, but ‘Timystery’ is simply an album that will not let you go until long after it is over.

Recommended tracks: ‘Bad Devotion’, ‘Living On In The Crisis’, ‘Easy Road To Life’

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’

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 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’