Posts Tagged ‘ Thrash Metal ’

Album of the Week 02-2019: Gargoyle – Gaia


For some reason, ‘Gaia’ often gets ignored when people discuss the greatest works of Gargoyle. Up until last year’s unfortunate dissolution of the band, the songs on ‘Gaia’ did not even appear on their live sets all that much. Maybe that is a result of the material on the album making optimal use of the two guitar line-up, since Gargoyle would continue with just one guitarist after Yotaro left. It would really be a pity to let ‘Gaia’ go by unnoticed though, because there is simply too much good music on the album. It is in fact one of Gargoyle’s finest efforts.

‘Gaia’ is probably the second most experimental album Gargoyle released to date, surpassed only by its predecessor ‘Natural’. Unlike the latter, however, ‘Gaia’ feels pretty coherent stylistically and does not have as many sudden shifts, save for maybe the odd, but successful percussion and Spanish guitar exercise that is ‘Hako’ and the hyperactive funk rock of ‘Baby Cat’, one of Gargoyle’s better funky tracks. Everything else consists of variations on the trusted Gargoyle formula. Some songs have a cleaner guitar approach and more swing rhythmically (‘Unkown ~Annon~’) or a more exotic overall sound (‘Yagate Hikaru’), but but the thrash riffs and heavy metal melodies are everywhere.

Opening track ‘Wakakusa No Kimi’ does a pretty good job of preparing its listeners for the general sound of ‘Gaia’. The rhythm guitar work and Katsuji’s rolling double bass thunder still is as deeply rooted in thrash as the band always was, but the overall approach is a little more melodic. Frontman Kiba even shows a surprising amount of restraint in its uncharacteristically melodic vocal lines, but it all works remarkably well. ‘Sora Wa Ao’ is another track that manages to successfully blend a wild, propulsive bottom end with a melodic, almost rocky top layer.

That does not mean ‘Gaia’ cannot thrash your face off. The stomping ‘Meditation’ and the vaguely OverKill-ish ‘Who Are You?’ are both excellent energetic thrashers in the best Gargoyle tradition, while especially the speed monster ‘Kamikaze’ is absolutely annihilating. Truly one of the highlights of the band’s career. If ‘Gaia’ proves anything, however, it is that Gargoyle does not have to do that to sound amazing. ‘Sanbika’, for instance, is one of the most powerful tracks on here and it has an almost doom metal vibe, with Kentaro’s and Yotaro’s riffs not containing any more notes than they have to and Toshi laying down some of his best melodic bass lines. Definitely one of the best of their more atmospheric tracks.

My only complaints about ‘Gaia’ are aimed at its production. The guitar sound is not as powerful and pulsating as it should be and I have no idea why Kiba’s vocals on ‘Sayonara Jibun’, otherwise a very pleasant melodic thrasher, had to be so trebly, borderline unlistenably distorted. But apart from that, ‘Gaia’ is one of the best albums the Japanese experimental thrash machine has ever released. It may even have been the most consistent set of songs they have ever recorded, save for the near-perfection of ‘Tsuki No Toge’.

Recommended tracks: ‘Sanbika’, ‘Kamikaze’, ‘Wakakusa No Kimi’, ‘Who Are You?’

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Album of the Week 01-2019: Vader – De Profundis


Vader is easily my favorite death metal band of the non-progressive variety. Unlike many of their contemporaries and a staggering number of bands that followed them, the Polish band around vocalist and guitarist Piotr ‘Peter’ Wiwczarek knows how to create something memorable if you don’t have a great deal of melody at your disposal. It’s their riffs rather than their choruses that are – for lack of a better term – quite catchy. Vader’s sophomore album ‘De Profundis’ is generally seen as their classic album and while I’m not sure if it’s their best, it is definitely the album on which Vader found its sound.

Debut album ‘The Ultimate Incantation’ was mostly a supercharged thrash metal record, which is a good thing, but it was awkwardly produced an Wiwczarek still sounded like any other grunter on the record. ‘De Profundis’ is the first showcase for his definitive voice, which is closer to a carnal, low pitched roar. He sounds commanding and full of character, which is why Wiwczarek is one of the few grunters I appreciate. Musically, Vader started enhancing their deeply thrash-rooted death metal with some more climactic or atmospheric songwriting reminiscent of a somewhat less pretentious – and therefore better – Morbid Angel.

Memorable riff writing is all over ‘De Profundis’. Everyone with a more than casual interest in death metal will immediately have the intro riffs to the likes of ‘Blood Of Kingu’ or ‘Sothis’ in their minds if you even so much as mention the titles. The latter is a masterclass in structuring a death metal song anyway; the way it moves from the pummeling mid-tempo intro to the increasingly faster sections in the middle of the song and back is dynamically very strong. The former is one of the slower tracks, built on a foundation of strong, moderately fast triplets that sound very driven and delightfully dark.

With ‘De Profundis’ being only 34 minutes long, there is not a whole lot of room for experimentation or sophistication, but the epic closing track ‘Reborn In Flames’ definitely does a good job highlighting different sides of Wiwczarek’s songwriting, while the strong opening track ‘Silent Empire’ manages to pack several different atmospheres and a large portion of riffs within only four minutes. ‘Vision And The Voice’ is a hidden gem, with its shifting rhythms and rare twin guitar middle section pushing it into borderline progressive territory, while ‘Revolt’ briefly flirts with black metal-inspired atmospheres.

Although I am not sure if I agree with the assessment that ‘De Profundis’ is the best Vader album – in my opinion, there are at least three albums equally deserving of that title – it is a fact that a lot of the elements that make Vader the band they are today first popped up on this great record. Personally, I am quite glad that happened without forsaking the band’s thrash-inspired riffing, as that is one of the factors that makes the band better than their peers for me. Anyone who likes their death metal fast and punishing will enjoy ‘De Profundis’, but so will anyone who likes some thought and depth put into the genre.

Recommended tracks: ‘Sothis’, ‘Silent Empire’, ‘Reborn In Flames’

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’

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 30-2018: Volcano – Darker Than Black


‘Darker Than Black’ is Volcano’s fourth original studio album since mid-July 2015. While that may seem a bit excessive, it is also remarkably good. Volcano was always the perfect band for anyone who could not choose between the vicious aggression of thrash metal and the melodic appeal of traditional heavy metal and ‘Darker Than Black’ is no different, though the melodic death metal influences that were prominent a few albums ago have been dialed back considerably. ‘Darker Than Black’ is one of Volcano’s more interesting albums compositionally, though it is just as capable of thrashing your face off when it needs to.

One thing that immediately stands out is that a lot of attention has been given to making the songs instantly recognizable. Every previous Volcano album has its fair share of powerful songs and catchy moments, but at times, some of the non-highlights had a tendency to sound a little too similar. However, no two songs sound alike on ‘Darker Than Black’. This is admirable, because thrash metal can be quite the limiting genre. By subtle changes in tempo, atmosphere and melodic content, the Japanese quartet managed to give each song its own face while retaining their thrashing intensity.

Speaking of atmosphere, two of the album’s most atmospheric moments have surprisingly been composed by bassist Akira. The propulsive ‘Jailbreak Vampire’ has a middle section that would not have sounded out of place on a mid-nineties Scandinavian melodeath album, while closing track ‘Guardian Deity’ immediately becomes one of the album highlights through its heroic melodicism. Guitarist She-ja wrote the rest of the material, with ‘Flight To The World’ possibly being the best opening track Volcano ever released. Classic twin guitar melodies, punishing drum work by the incredible Shun and biting thrash riffs constantly keep each other in perfect balance. And good luck getting that chorus out of your head.

Furthermore, Volcano explores the entire spectrum of heavy metal here. At the most melodic end, there are songs like the classic midtempo heavy metal of ‘Scatter Toxins’ and the relatively open ‘When You Are’, which has a gorgeous, almost bluesy guitar solo. The latter is also true for ‘Arena’, which is the perfect breather for an otherwise rather chaotic song. ‘Horror’ is a very cool riff-driven thrasher closest to the eighties Bay Area tradition, while ‘Great Crisis’ similtaneously houses some of the album’s most extreme as well as some of its most melodic sections. It should not work and yet, it does.

In fact, the entire album works. The only issue have with it is that the mastering job is a nightmare. It isn’t disruptive in every single song, but during some intense double bass sessions, the music distorts. With the songwriting generally being on par with – at times even slightly better than – the better moments of ‘Melt’, that should only be a minor complaint though. Though nothing on ‘Darker Than Black’ may be as instantly catchy as ‘Tokyo Panic’, it feels like this 53-minute collection of carefree thrashing will leave more of a lasting impact, quite likely making it the second best Volcano album after 2001’s incomparable ‘Davi’.

Recommended tracks: ‘Flight To The World’, ‘Guardian Deity’, ‘Horror’

Album of the Week 26-2018: Iced Earth – Night Of The Stormrider


‘Night Of The Stormrider’ is often mentioned as a favorite by those who followed Iced Earth from the very beginning and it is easy to hear why. The song material is notably more complex than the songs that would make the band a big name less than a decade after its original release in 1991, though there is more of a polish than on the self-titled debut. The fact that it’s a concept album certainly helps its continuity as well. Whatever happened in the intervening year, it helped. Most of the songs would remain live staples for many years to come.

Whether or not ‘Night Of The Stormrider’ would be your favorite Iced Earth album depends on what you want to hear from them. If you want the hooky choruses and dramatic vocals that are currently synonymous with them, the album may come off disappointing. Jon Schaffer’s trademark aggressive, hyperspeed palm-muted riffs are all over the record though. And there’s certainly a higher riff density than usual. Verse-chorus structures are broken up by extensive middle sections full of tempo and atmosphere changes, while the overall tone of the album is notably darker than most of the band’s other output.

Compositionally, the album contains some of Iced Earth’s finest work. Especially when the band combines fierce aggression and the first traces of theatricality, as is the case in the massive opener ‘Angels Holocaust’, Iced Earth proves they were easily among the best metal bands of the early nineties. Closing epic ‘Travel In Stygian’ manages to wrap up all the elements of Iced Earth’s style as well, with fierce semi-thrash riffs, balladesque sections and a particularly climactic chorus following each other seemlessly, though it could have used a shorter middle section. ‘Stormrider’ and the more melodic, oft-forgotten ‘Mystical End’ are more concise, but no less impressive.

Another song that doesn’t always get the praise it deserves is ‘Desert Rain’. It is easily the darkest moment on the album musically, with the rage and confusion of the lyrics perfectly illustrated by the juxtaposition of forceful metal and more desperate tranquil sections. Its chorus is one of the band’s first experiments with vocal harmonies and it is quite tasteful. If you’re splitting hairs, you could argue that the song is more a collection of riffs or segments than a composition, but that is the case for ‘Pure Evil’ as well and that one is still a fan favorite to this day.

The album is not without its flaws. First and foremost, John Greely is merely adequate, though significantly better than his predecessor Gene Adam. His cleans have a pleasant tone and his rawer work sounds delightfully aggressive, but his high-pitched screams lack character and his range is quite limited. The acoustic interludes ‘Before The Vision’ and ‘Reaching The End’ don’t add much musically and some sections (most notably the parts before the final verses of ‘The Path I Choose’ and ‘Pure Evil’) sound too similar. The pros outweigh the cons though. Unlike Schaffer, I think the bottom-heavy production benefits the music and there is a simple reason why a majority of these songs are considered Iced Earth classics: they’re very good.

Recommended tracks: ‘Angels Holocaust’, ‘Desert Rain’, ‘Stormrider’

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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