Posts Tagged ‘ progressive Thrash Metal ’

Album of the Week 39-2018: Doom – Still Can’t The Dead


Some albums are much better than they are supposed to be. With the death of fretless bass wizard Koh Morota, Doom had lost a key member. In addition, their last album before disbanding, releaed seventeen years prior to ‘Still Can’t The Dead’, wasn’t all that good. And yet, ‘Still Can’t The Dead’ is almost as good as the band’s classic work. Frontman Takashi Fujita shook off most of his electronic and psychedelic tendencies and decided to make another unconventional, experimental thrash metal record. With maybe slightly more pronounced hardcore influences, but that might contribute to the album’s somewhat more contemporary nature.

First things first: new bassist Takatoshi Kodaira does a phenomenal job filling Morota’s shoes. He is not quite as good melodically, but it is obvious that he has studied Morota’s work closely.  He even gets the chance to show off his virtuosity in pieces like the middle section of the otherwise bleak, doomy masterpiece ‘The Folly And Splice’, though overall, he is slightly less prominent in the mix than Morota was. Then again, that’s like comparing your winters to those on Antarctica. By employing a similarly styled bassist who apparently is a fan of Morota, Doom has all the ingredients for a classic Doom album.

And by almost any definition, it is. Sure, there are marginal stylistic differences with their earlier work, most prominently the fact that the jam-like sections are dropped in favor of tighter compositions. But overall, ‘Still Can’t The Dead’ leaves very little doubt that we are dealing with a Doom album. The electronically tinged overture ‘Introduce 99s Life… Getting Lies’ might be a little misleading, but it is followed by an array of crude thrash riffs that switch between brutal, uncomplicated hardcore picking to chord work that almost feel like bluesrock violently pushed through a meat grinder. And of course, Fujita’s trademark snarl is all over the record.

The songs on ‘Still Can’t The Dead’ are generally long, but feel shorter. The ‘Grin’ era Coroner-ish title track, for instance, rages on for over nine minutes and doesn’t have that many riffs, but manages to draw the listener in repeatedly by subtle touches, like verses that abruptly stop before they appear to be over and bass and guitar parts that constantly shift rhythms in relation to each other. ‘All Your Fears’ deserves to be long for maximum impact of the brooding danger in its mysterious atmosphere, while ‘All That Is Gone’ appears to be blunt at first, but reveals its subtleties through multiple listens. That middle section is uncharacteristically melodic and heartfelt. Fujita’s solo in particular.

Instrumental tracks ‘Ibiza’ and ‘Siesta…’ are fairly obvious tributes to the memory of Morota with Kodaira’s prominent melodic work on the fretless bass, but they work very well to offset the abrasive, almost noisy nature of the rest of the record. The latter half of ‘Siesta…’ has the whole band firing on all cylinders, but really, that could be said about the whole record. ‘Still Can’t The Dead’ is a great work of contemporary progressive thrash and despite the fact that it contains all the familiar Doom elements, it manages to be quite a surprising listen. The concrete urban jungle of ‘Incompetent…’ has become a debris-coated wasteland on ‘Still Can’t The Dead’, but that should hardly be a complaint.

Recommended tracks: ‘Still Can’t The Dead’, ‘The Folly And Splice’, ‘All That Is Gone’

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Album of the Week 38-2018: Voivod – The Wake


After ‘Target Earth’ being much better than it had any right to be and the excellent ‘Post Society’ EP, Canadian sci-fi thrashers Voivod had a reputation to live up to. They proved that they could still write a song that their late guitarist Denis ‘Piggy’ D’Amour would be proud of. But could they continue his legacy in a satisfying manner? Hearing ‘The Wake’ leaves only one possible answer to that question: a resounding yes. Most impressively, Voivod decided not to lean back and release ‘Target Earth II’, instead treating us to an album that pushes their progressive tendencies to the fore.

Just like on ‘Target Earth’, Dan ‘Chewy’ Mongrain plays so many twisted dissonant chords and almost fusion-esque melodies that it’s barely noticeable that D’Amour is no longer there. The riff work is notably less thrashy though; ‘The Wake’ opts for a somewhat more spacious sound and therefore feels like the natural successor to ‘Nothingface’ or ‘The Outer Limits’ rather than ‘Killing Technology’. Every song feels like a little adventure on an extraterrestrial planet where anything can happen, without ever sounding as chaotic or busy as many of the other bands of the Québécois metal scene, as Michel ‘Away’ Langevin’s rhythms are generally laid-back rather than hyper aggressive.

It is interesting to see how every song unfolds, as many songs open with a riff that will claw its way to your brain and once the verse-chorus structure is established, the band moves into more experimental territory with a section that almost feels like a particularly tight jam. ‘Iconspiracy’ is the most notable instance of this, which after appearing to be one of the more intensely propulsive tracks on the record moves into an almost cinematic b-section with a string quartet, followed by what is arguably Mongrain’s best solo on the record. ‘The End Of Dormancy’ follows a similar path, forsaking conventional structures for an approach that builds riff upon riff.

Because of this approach, it is more difficult to pick highlights than it was on ‘Target Earth’, as ‘The Wake’ is best listened to in its entirity. It is impossible not to mention closing track ‘Sonic Mycelium’ in that context, however. It never feels quite as long as its running time of twelve and a half minutes, though it has a number of interesting shifts in mood and intensity. The track reprises several musical ideas that appeared earlier on the album with a completely different atmosphere and just when you think the returning string quartet concludes the album in a ‘Grand Fugue’-like fashion, Mongrain and bassist Dominic ‘Rocky’ Laroche return for the open ending.

For a band to be truly progressive, they’d have to try out new things without completely alienating their sound. That is exactly what Voivod does on ‘The Wake’. In a way, it is to ‘Target Earth’ what the holy diptych of ‘Dimension Hatröss’ and ‘Nothingface’ was to ‘Killing Technology’. Those who did not like the band before will probably still be unimpressed by the almost spacey atmosphere and the relatively montonous vocals of Denis ‘Snake’ Belanger, but anyone who loved the progressive sci-fi thrash Voivod got buried under justified praise for should be happy with how remarkably and weirdly good ‘The Wake’ really is.

Recommended tracks: ‘Always Moving’, ‘Sonic Mycelium’, ‘Spherical Perspective’

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…’

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’

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