Posts Tagged ‘ progressive Thrash Metal ’

Album of the Week 25-2018: Doom – Complicated Mind


One risk when you are listening to Doom is that you will only pay attention to the late Koh Morota’s crazy, but always serviceable work on the fretless bass. Especially when he is put front and center in the mix like he was on the ‘Killing Fields’ EP. However, Doom is a power trio in the truest sense of the word. The magic of this band happens within their intricate, but always spontaneous interaction, something highly uncommon amongst thrash metal bands, but also a defining factor of the middle section in just about every track on their masterpiece ‘Complicated Mind’.

Structurally, most of Doom’s songs follow a similar pattern. They are bookended by tightly composed thrash riffs, only to turn into a contrasting instrumental section in the middle. The riffing has a futuristic feel, but manages to steer clear of the clinical nature of Voivod’s riffs, a band Doom is often compared to outside of their native Japan. And those middle sections really turn Doom into something special, as they could be anything from bluesy hardrock (the title track) to an atmospheric break (‘Bright Light’) or what can almost be considered a loud and distorted take on freejazz (‘Fall, Rise And…’).

While all of this may sound abstract, it is actually surprising how listenable ‘Complicated Mind’ is. Morota, singer/guitarist Takashi Fujita and drummer Jyoichi Hirokawa are not trying to be clever, they just play what came to their minds and apparently, their minds are wired a little differently than those of most people. The strangest track here is probably ‘Can’t Break My… Without You’ – verses: start-stop riffing with a melodic bass line, middle section: clean guitar break – but Hirokawa’s steady, almost danceable rhythms keep the song grounded and easily digestible. Doom’s secret appears to be to feel the music rather than to overthink it.

As a result, ‘Complicated Mind’ does not feel like college material. Banging your head to the pounding rhythms and dissonant chords of the title track is easy, while ‘Painted Face’, ‘Bright Light’ and ‘Slave Of Heaven’ are simply excellent, inventive metal tracks. The way Fujita’s straightforward riff and Morota’s busy parts are woven into each other on the latter is nothing short of art, as is the open, almost alt-rocky solo section. ‘The Boys Dog’ features Fujita narrating a story about what appears to sincerely be his childhood dog over some great riffing, which works out much better than it may sound like it would.

Everyone who enjoyed Voivod and Coroner should definitely give Doom a spin, though the more adventurous fans of the likes of Rush may actually find something of their liking here as well. Sure, Fujita’s vocals are quite monotonous, but they are convincing and strategically placed within the songs. While Doom would become even more progressive or even avant-garde in later years, ‘Complicated Mind’ features the trio at their very best, combining the blunt force of their early work with the thinking man’s intricacy of some of the following albums. And while some moments may feel downright odd initially, those with a similarly complicated mind will get it soon enough.

Recommended tracks: ‘Complicated Mind’, ‘Slave Of Heaven’, ‘Fall, Rise And…’

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Album of the Week 14-2018: Skyclad – A Burnt Offering For The Bone Idol


Before folk metal became synonymous with heavy drinking songs – that being either heavy songs for drinking or songs for heavy drinking – Skyclad managed to blend folk and heavy metal in an intelligent and reasonably complex manner. For the British band, the folk influences were there to enhance the engaging riff work instead of the other way around and in Martin Walkyier, they had the best lyricist in metal. Each of the first five albums is great, but while others may point towards ‘Prince Of The Poverty Line’, ‘A Burnt Offering For The Bone Idol’ is the one I return to most.

With ‘A Burnt Offering For The Bone Idol’ being Skyclad’s second album, it was still very much rooted in the NWOBHM and thrash metal history that Walkyier, guitarist Steve Ramsey and bassist Graeme English had in bands like Sabbat and Satan. However, the addition of violinist and keyboard player Fritha Jenkins to the line-up meant that the folk elements were promoted from novelty to a full part of the arrangements in a spectacular manner. In fact, songs like ‘Karmageddon (The Suffering Silence)’ and ‘Salt On The Earth (One Man’s Poison)’ have some incredible harmonies for the violin and two guitars.

Despite arguably being the first band in the genre, Skyclad’s early work may have some trouble being considered folk metal by current fans of the genre, save for ‘Spinning Jenny’. Then what is it? It’s not quite thrash metal, though the intensity and the tempos are there and while it’s considerably more complex than classic heavy metal, calling this progressive metal would be a step too far. Still, how ‘A Broken Promised Land’ moves from intense riffing to a tranquil middle section and back is very likely to please fans of all aforementioned genres rather than alienating all of them.

In later years, the atmosphere on Skyclad’s songs would frequently move into bitter irony. Here, most of the material is still quie angry and aggressive, really bringing out the best in Walkyier’s diction. His gruff bile spitting can hardly be accused of possessing a wide range, but it does give the already impressive riff work on songs like the atmospheric ‘Men Of Straw’ and the incredible ‘R’vannith’ a little extra push. ‘The Declaration Of Indifference’ is the biggest masterpiece here, as everything simply works: Walkyier’s word play, Ramsey’s pulsating riffs and an incredible climactic build-up towards its spectacular chorus.

Creating a whole new subgenre isn’t something every band can claim doing, but I doubt if that was ever Skyclad’s intention. ‘A Burnt Offering For The Bone Idol’ never sounds like a band trying to be clever, instead just focusing on making the best album possible. My only minor quibble with the album is that it closes with ‘Alone In Death’s Shadow’. This dark, doomy ballad is quite good, but doesn’t work as a climax. ‘R’vannith’ would have been my pick. Apart from that, there hardly is anything to complain about here, unless you passionately disagree with Walkyier’s fairly left-wing views. But even then, there’s too much excellent music to let this go by unnoticed.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Declaration Of Indifference’, ‘A Broken Promised Land’, ‘R’vannith’

Renewed Noise: Voivod


When BMG Rights Entertainment secured the rights to the legendary German heavy metal label Noise Records, it was celebrated by a bunch of entertaining compilations. “Amazing” would be one step too far, because they contained nothing new for those who followed the label during their glory days – roughly from the mid-eighties to the mid-nineties – but good enough to remind us why it was such a good thing that they put bands like Skyclad, Running Wild and Kreator in the market. A compilation of Canada’s immensely creative Voivod made came later, which is now followed by full reissues of their three Noise releases.

Contrary to the compilation albums, the reissues of ‘Rrröööaaarrr’ (I’m not making this up), ‘Killing Technology’ and ‘Dimension Hatröss’ do contain a wealth of bonus material that was previously either not or very limitedly available. All three releases consist of 2 cd’s and one dvd. This often means that the band or label has cleaned the vaults and just threw every poor quality recording they could find on there. While that is true for a majority of the video footage on the dvd’s, the bonus cd’s all feature soundboard recorded concerts with a surprisingly good sound quality.

Most of these live tracks are from demos and fan club releases that the band has released throughout the years and that might explain why they sound so good. Sure, they’re a little rough around the edges – the ‘No Speed Limit Week-End’ live show that comes with ‘Rrröööaarrr’ is almost too raw – but they’re release-worthy. In fact, the live cd that comes with ‘Dimension Hatröss’ – entitled ‘A Flawed Structure?’ – is more or less on par with the official 2011 live album ‘Warriors Of Ice’. Not only is every instrument loud and clear; the mix is quite balanced, though it does favor the late Denis ‘Piggy’ D’Amour’s guitars. But then again: who doesn’t?

So should you be getting these re-releases? I would say that ‘Dimension Hatröss’ is indispensable. Though my favorite is still ‘Nothingface’, ‘Dimension Hatröss’ is the essential Voivod album. It’s where they first stretched their sound well beyond the boundaries of thrash metal, creating a progressive sci-fi metal sound that made them a truly unique band. And the bonus live recordings are a very worthy addition to any metal collection. The live footage on the bonus dvd isn’t as good, but at least the entire album is on it in demo form, as well as some of drummer Michel ‘Away’ Langevin’s cool artworks.

As for the other two: ‘Killing Technology’ is a brilliant progressive thrash record and its bonus live cd ‘Spectrum ’87’ is raw, but very listenable. By all means, get it if it’s not in your collection already, because it’s one of the best thrash albums of its time. That leaves ‘Rrröööarrr’. A record I have to be in the mood for, as it’s basically all fast, all loud, all heavy, all the damn time. It’s good that the album is easily available again, but don’t let it be your introduction to Voivod. If it is, you may not understand what all the praise is really about.

These reissues all come with fairly extensive booklets with essays by UK music journalist Malcolm Dome, decorated with quotes from interviews with all four original members. And while it is a bit awkward to see D’Amour quoted as if he is still alive – he died in 2005 – the booklets do offer a bit of interesting information about the recordings of the albums and the circumstances Voivod found itself in during those years. The band is allegedly planning to record its fourteenth album later this year and if it will be anywhere near as good as their last two releases, that is really good news. Until then, this is a very pleasant way to rediscover the sonic evolution they went through in the mid to late eighties.

Album of the Week 45-2016: Gargoyle – Furebumi


If you think Japanese music is weird, this album – or this band, for that matter – isn’t going to change your mind. When I discovered it, however, it provided me with something that I had been looking for a long time: the guitar riffs and intensity of thrash metal combined with a complete lack of inhibitions regarding experimenting with other styles. While the basis is always thrash metal with – more prominently in recent years – power metal melodicism, there’s hints of funk, J-rock, a sometimes punky attitude, Japanese folk influences and a singer who, despite sounding like a rabid dog, always delivers something memorable.

‘Furebumi’ is Gargoyle’s first masterpiece. While ‘Misogi’ was a better debut than many bands can even dream of today, their sophomore record upped the ante in many ways. First and foremost, this is where Katsuji becomes one of Japan’s best drummers. From the vicious blasting in ‘Dilemma’ to the snare rolling madness of ‘Execute’, there was absolutely no better drummer for fast paced music in Japan. His double bass patterns also show massive improvement. Besides that, Gargoyle’s first truly progressive tendencies can be heard on this record. And it’s worth noting that they are ridiculously good for a first attempt.

Opening track ‘Ruika ~Prologue~ / Ounou No Goku’ convinced me of Gargoyle’s greatness right away. The prologue itself morphs from a Japanese folk composition – something also apparent in the downright brilliant outro ‘Ruika ~Epilogue~’ quite logically – into a high intensity thrash metal song with amazing twin guitar melodies. And that’s only the beginning. ‘Halleluyah’, ‘Algolagnia’, ‘Dilemma’, closer ‘Shoumetsu’ and the one minute scorcher ‘Execute’ are all set to destroy everything that dares to stand in their way. The contrast between She-ja’s crushing riffs and his melodically strong lead guitar work gives these songs a longer lasting value than many other thrash songs from the era, as does Toshi’s creative bass work.

But Gargoyle doesn’t just thrash. Initially, I found the upbeat punk metal of ‘Tokimeki’ an odd choice as the second track of the record, but its high tempo and memorable songwriting quickly made it one of my favorites. And then there’s the slow, atmospheric “doom prog” of ‘Ruten No Yo Nite’. The high-pitched female vocals may throw some people off, but it’s a brilliantly constructed song full of interesting riffs and even a violin solo that became the mould that would shape practically every longer Gargoyle track in the future. ‘Naidzukushi’ is a funk rocker and while there aren’t any ballads this time around, the dreamy atmosphere among the heavier riffs of ‘Tell Me True’ provide a more than decent alternative.

While ‘Misogi’ was very promising, ‘Furebumi’ paved the way for a string of classic albums. It’s where all the potential that Gargoyle had was fully realized for the first time and save for a minor dip around the turn of the century, they have somehow managed to maintain their interesting take on thrash metal for almost three decades now. If you are curious about what this weird, but indescribably awesome band is about, ‘Furebumi’ may not be the worst place to start. ‘Tenron’ may be broader in scope and ‘Tsuki No Toge’ may be just a tad more consistent, but it is most certainly a monumental record.

Recommended tracks: ‘Ruika ~Prologue~ / Ounou No Goku’, ‘Ruten No Yo Nite’, ‘Tokimeki’

Album of the Week 35-2016: Gargoyle – Taburakashi


If you were – like myself – blown away by the perfect blend of rabid, high speed Thrash Metal aggression and triumphant Power Metal melodies as could be heard on ‘Geshiki’, prepare to have your teeth kicked in by ‘Taburakashi’. Seriously, I don’t know where Gargoyle gets the energy, but their music just keeps getting more intense. Gargoyle is not just solid and dependable here; the first five tracks on ‘Taburakashi’ are likely the most vicious, scorching succession of five tracks ever on a Gargoyle record. And that’s not where the fun stops: ‘Taburakashi’ is Gargoyle’s most consistently amazing set of songs since 1994’s ‘Tsuki No Toge’.

Everything anyone could desire from Gargoyle based on their recent outings can be found on ‘Taburakashi’. Kentaro’s punishing riffs, soaring twin harmonies and blazing guitar leads are all over the album (as is his perfect guitar sound!), Katsuji is still the finest Japanese Thrash drummer I have ever heard, Toshi still refuses to be the background bassist that so many of his colleagues are and in the vocal department, there’s a whole load of gang shouts and Kiba’s gruff bark, which is surprisingly catchy at times. It’s still the same formula, but thoroughly improved. It’s like everything is turned up to eleven.

As stated before, the album begins in a particularly intense fashion. ‘Yaban Kairo’ is structured like a Power Metal song with its catchiness and twin lead guitars, but the pummeling hyperspeed rhythm still pushes it into familiar Gargoyle opening track territory and the following riff monster ‘Crumbling Roar’ pushes the intensity to almost Death Metal levels, by which point my blood is boiling. ‘Dragon Skull’ is a little more traditional, but every bit as enjoyable, while the following ‘Overpower’ starts like it will be full-on Thrash, but has enough interesting going – the twin guitar pre-chorus, the atmospheric clean guitar on the background in the verses – after which ‘No Entry’ destroys all that’s in its way.

When you view the decent ballad ‘Dare Ga Wa Tame Ni Ame Wa Furu’ – with an excellent solo by Kentaro – as the act break, the second half of the album is a bit more experimental. Don’t expect the odd, quirky tracks from their early career; it’s rather a more playful sort of aggression. ‘Go Go Galapagos’ starts with a highly impressive, jumpy riff that made me go “holy shit!” upon hearing it for the first time and ‘Massive Thrill’ initially struck me as one of those more simple, punky moments, but harbors several moments of highly interesting guitar arrangements.

‘Taburakashi’ ends on a high note. First there’s the excellent ‘Tada Hitosuji Ni Iku’, a progressive power ballad which is slightly reminiscent of the classic ‘Yakusoku No Chi De’ in terms of structure. Another excellent Kentaro solo is the icing on the cake. And ‘Ichi’ is easily the best closing track on a Gargoyle album since ‘Kaze No Machi’ from 1995. Despite being somewhat darker in tone, the song brings to mind the epic grandeur of ‘Catharsis’, another classic closer, from ‘Tsuki No Toge’. ‘Ichi’ is loaded with awesome riff work, mindblowing solos, a goosebumps inducing, catchy chorus and even some very subtle symphonic elements. A closing track as it’s supposed to be: it leaves you hungry for more. Much more.

Sometimes I wish Gargoyle’s formula – two thirds of Thrash Metal, a third of Power Metal and a dash of experimentation – would be more common in Europe and America, because the world needs bands like Gargoyle. Luckily, the guys are still around and sound like they’ve begun their second youth a couple of years ago. In fact, ‘Taburakashi’ isn’t even their first amazing studio album of this decade (it’s their third), but it’s definitely the best. It easily ranks right up there with their classics ‘Furebumi’, ‘Tenron’ and ‘Tsuki No Toge’. Obligated if you like your Metal highly aggressive, but not devoid of melody and interesting twists.

Recommended tracks: ‘Crumbling Roar’, ‘Ichi’, ‘Yaban Kairo’

Album of the Week 20-2016: Vektor – Terminal Redux


Despite frequently being labeled as a Voivod rip-off, Vektor is one of the most unique bands in contemporary Thrash Metal. Sure, they borrow heavily from the Sci-Fi themes and dissonant chord work of their Canadian heroes, but Vektor plays (much) faster, writes more intricate material and adds quite a few traces of extreme Metal to the mix. After a five year break, the band finally released their third album ‘Terminal Redux’ and boy, it’s a good one! Strangely, it is simultaneously Vektor’s most progressive and their most accessible album. Longer songs, but also stronger hooks. Unbelievable, but the absolute truth.

It’s also their best produced album yet and that contributes significantly to the listenability of ‘Terminal Redux’. Unlike many modern Thrash bands, Vektor’s riffs are generally located relatively high on the necks of their guitars, so the fact that the sound isn’t quite as trebly as before really is a step forward. The riffs have more balls than ever before, Blake Anderson’s snares no longer blast through your ear drums and David DiSanto’s lead vocals – a perfect blend of Dani Filth and Sadus frontman Darren Travis – suddenly don’t feel quite as shrill as they did on the first two albums anymore.

However, none of this would be relevant if the actual music wasn’t so damn good. Technical Death Metal bands should pay close attention to Vektor. Not only because they successfully incorporated the best aspects of Chuck Schuldiner’s Death – the vortical guitar leads and the full-on riff assault – into their music, but also because they know how to write a highly complex song with what feels like a hundred riffs without ever sacrificing the hungry energy and boundless aggression essential to Metal. No matter how technical and intricate the compositions get, Vektor’s main purpose is still to get you to bang your head.

While ‘Terminal Redux’ is best listened to in one sitting – believe me, those 73 minutes are over before you know it – there are still some standout moments. Naturally, those are generally the ones that deviate somewhat style-wise. The relatively straightforward ‘Ultimate Artificer’, for instance, is one of the most memorable cuts on the album. Easily the most notable song is the highly Pink Floyd-esque ‘Collapse’, which despite a few monumental twin guitar harmony climaxes is largely built on beautiful clean guitar parts. Speaking of which, the clean guitars are better and larger in number than ever. ‘Cygnus Terminal’, ‘Pillars Of Sand’ and the mammoth 13 and a half minute closer ‘Recharging The Void’ all alternate their intense riff work with clean bits. The instrumental ‘Mountains Above The Sun’ even consists almost entirely of them.

There’s a little something for anyone here: the almost unending riffing violence should please any Thrash Metal fan, the unpredictable songwriting should be a delight to any progressive Metalhead and the vocals and drums may even draw in some people who generally confine themselves to the more extreme segments of the genre. And what is most amazing is that they tackle every one of these approaches without ever compromising the others. That is quite an impressive feat. From the day I first heard them, I have labeled Vektor as promising. ‘Terminal Redux’ is the transition to simply excellent.

Recommended tracks: ‘Collapse’, ‘Ultimate Artificer’, ‘Psychotropia’

Album of the Week 05-2016: Gargoyle – Tenron


Even for bands that have a consistently awesome output, there are sometimes moments that the stars align just right. Japanese experimental Thrash monsters Gargoyle have had quite a few of those moments, but ‘Tenron’ is arguably the pinnacle for the original recording lineup of the band, which dissolved shortly after the release of the album. It’s one of those records where every song hits just the right notes and where the first listen is every bit as enjoyable as the umpteenth one. A masterpiece of Thrash Metal that is as vicious as it is melodic, entertaining and sometimes even surprising.

Very little subtlety kicks off the record when you hear Kiba’s gruff bark introducing the chorus to the spectacular opening track ‘Shinpan No Hitomi’ a capella. It pulls you right into the album – by the throat – and doesn’t let you go until it’s over. Sure, Gargoyle has a tendency to take Thrash Metal far beyond its traditional boundaries and with such an amount of variation, some tracks are bound to please the listener more than others, but as far as consistency goes, ‘Tenron’ is one of their better works. Even the goofy track ‘Amoeba Life’ (with a Country guitar solo!) is amazing.

Stylistically, ‘Tenron’ isn’t even that remarkable of a Gargoyle album, but everything that makes the band work is just turned up to eleven. The traditional funky track (‘Doumu Lullaby’) is more intense than its earlier counterparts, the slower, doomy track (‘Hikari To Yami No Monogatari’) is incredibly atmospheric and has just the right riffs in the right places (not to mention a downright amazing guitar solo courtesy of Sheja) and while it just barely misses out on the genius of ‘Cogito, Ergo Sum’ (the original) and ‘Yakusoku No Chi De’, ‘Inochi Yukashi Inochi Nagashi’ is a fantastic, brooding ballad with amazing guitar work.

However, Gargoyle is at its best when they’re firing on all cylinders and churning out Thrash grenades like the annihilating closer ‘Haretsu Ganbou’ or the mind-blowing ‘Ame Ni Mo Makezu’, the latter being responsible for making me the rabid Gargoyle fan I am these days. The aforementioned ‘Shinpan No Hitomi’ fits that category as well, although Sheja’s neoclassical flourishes and Toshi’s remarkably catchy bass lines put the song in a more melodic league. ‘Gekka Ranshou’ brings all of the influences together in an epic Heavy Metal track with a haunting guitar intro and a myriad of pummeling riffs and soaring melodic themes.

‘Tenron’ is definitely a fine place to start if you want to get yourself acquainted with the crazy world of Gargoyle. I think it would be fair to warn you that their world is highly addictive though. Especially because their music has more depth than it may reveal initially. There’s the exploration of styles, there’s a bassist that plays unconventional bass lines, but somehow makes it work, there’s a barking singer that holds his own remarkably well even in ballads and beneath all the riff and lead guitar violence, there’s one of the most vicious Thrash drummers in the world. And so – again – a Japanese band has lifted a traditionally western art form far above its accepted limitations.

Recommended tracks: ‘Ame Ni Mo Makezu’, ‘Gekka Ranshou’, ‘Shinpan No Hitomi’

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