Posts Tagged ‘ Thrash Metal ’

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.

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Album of the Week 15-2017: God Forbid – Earthsblood


God Forbid’s last album with their original line-up – and penultimate altogether – was the record on which they truly outdid themselves. In quite a litteral sense too. Starting out as a musically tight, but not particularly surprising metalcore band, the quintet gradually evolved into an excellent contemporary heavy metal band on ‘IV: Constitution Of Treason’. It’s that album’s follow-up, however, that is a truly unique work. Though most of the separate elements are familiar – hardcore, melodic death metal, thrash metal and progressive metal most prominently – the combination is what makes this a one of the very few modern day metal masterpieces.

So what to call the music on this album then? Well, it’s definitely modern metal in the sense that it contains downtuned guitars, significant hardcore influences and the vocal interaction between frontman Byron Davis’ harsh shouts and guitarist Dallas Coyle’s melodic cleans. ‘Earthsblood’, however, is more ambitious than what even some of God Forbid’s better peers – such as Shadows Fall – were attempting. The band’s mission here seems to be to seamlessly blend all of their influences and while history has proven that approach to often be a recipe for an incoherent disaster, it miraculously works for almost the entire playing time of the album.

Nowhere is the band’s ambition more obvious than during the more progressive moments. ‘The New Clear’, for instance, sounds like nothing God Forbid has ever done before, with its subdued vibe somewhat reminiscent of Opeth and ‘Elegy’ era Amorphis. Closing tracks ‘Earthsblood’ and ‘Gaia’ – the two longest tracks on the record – are more traditionally proggy in their dynamics, alternating between God Forbid’s trademark thick, heavy riffs and more atmospheric passages. Standout moments are the acoustic guitar sections on the former and Dallas Coyle’s mood-defining one-note vocal harmonies with himself on the latter. A final punch delivered in style.

But even the band’s more familiar heavy approach sounds great here. ‘War Of Attrition’ is probably the most typical God Forbid song on here, but more impressive are the surprisingly melodic ‘Walk Alone’ – a 21st century interpretation of traditional heavy metal – the viciously thrashy ‘Shallow’ and the strong, dark opener ‘The Rain’, which has a brilliant build-up in tension. ‘Empire Of The Gun’ has some nice dramatic twin guitar work and an incredible chorus built upon Dallas Coyle’s clean vocals as a perfect juxtaposition to the heavily stomping riffs and Davis’ hardcore barks in the verses. It could have been a successful single on alternative radio.

Ultimately, God Forbid started to fall apart after ‘Earthsblood’. Dallas Coyle left the band, that released one more somewhat underwhelming record and disbanded shortly afterward. Maybe the frustration of not being able to outdo this record may have been a part of that, but whatever the reason, some bands don’t even get to make an album this good. I feel that God Forbid is often dismissed by older metal fans as one of those bands that profited from the hype created by the likes of Lamb Of God and Killswitch Engage, but the truth is that none of those bands ever cared so little about what type of music they were supposed to make and ended up with an album as spontaneous and pleasantly surprising as ‘Earthsblood’.

Recommended tracks: ‘The New Clear’, ‘Gaia’, ‘Empire Of The Gun’

Album of the Week 11-2017: OverKill – W.F.O.


Like many of their peers, OverKill faded to the background a little when the nineties reared their heads. Unlike their peers, however, OverKill continued to make quality records. A complaint often heard is that the band focused too much on groove following their classic ‘Horrorscope’ album. And while the next record ‘I Hear Black’ did in deed have a lot of Black Sabbath-inspired grooves, its follow-up ‘W.F.O.’ is one pissed-off record which merges an almost punkish aggression and some of the most varied songwriting in the band’s history. Looking back, only its 1994 release date keeps it from being considered a classic.

‘W.F.O.’ is basically OverKill turned up to eleven. Their trademark punky thrash attitude is amplified by an abrasive production job – harsh guitars, a prominently rumbling bass – that may be somewhat off-putting in the beginning, but turns out to have its charms as well. The riff work oozes with anger and energy and appear to attempt breaking free from the confines of your speakers, but that doesn’t mean there’s no room for nuance on this record. In fact, its versatility is rivaled only by the seminal records ‘Horrorscope’ and ‘The Years Of Decay’. And maybe, just maybe, ‘Killbox 13’.

The album bulldozes into gear with the adrenalin monster ‘Where It Hurts’, which is one of my favorite OverKill openers to this day. There’s very little subtlety in the song, but enough to hear the fantastic interaction between the guitars and the rhythm section, which don’t necessarily blindly follow each other. This level of aggression is retained for thrash monsters like ‘They Eat Their Young’ or more punk influenced material like ‘Fast Junkie’ and ‘Supersonic Hate’. ‘Under One’ already signals in the more modern influences that OverKill would flirt with on their following records, but not without the trusted OverKill approach.

Surprisingly, the album does get a lot more melodic at times. ‘R.I.P. (Undone)’, an acoustic instrumental dedicated to the memory of Savatage’s Criss Oliva, is quite unique in that respect, featuring Rob Cannavino on the acoustic guitar and Merritt Gant soloing his heart out on top of that. ‘Bastard Nation’ feels like a disillusioned – and better – nineties equivalent to ‘In Union We Stand’ and ‘The Wait – New High In Lows’ combines the two extremes. The best is saved for last; ‘Gasoline Dream’ is a dark, brooding monster of a track with a climactic finale that remains one of the band’s best songs to this day.

Even though they are rare, strong thrash records have been released deep into the nineties and ‘W.F.O.’ is definitely one of them. Ironically, the prominent feel on the album is a disillusionment similar to the one expressed on many of the grunge records that were big at the time, OverKill just chooses to express it with pure, uncut anger rather than a feeling of despair. The result is an album that is OverKill through and through; its streetwise aggression is part of what makes the band – and this album in particular – so unique. Highly recommended those who need their blood to rush again.

Recommended tracks: ‘Gasoline Dream’, ‘Bastard Nation’, ‘Where It Hurts’

Album of the Week 06-2017: OverKill – The Grinding Wheel


As legendary as earlier OverKill albums like ‘Horrorscope’, ‘The Years Of Decay’ and debut album ‘Feel The Fire’ have become, it’s a fact that even in the 21st century, New Jersey’s finest has released some quality material. That’s why a new OverKill album is always something to look forward to. In fact, recent albums like ‘White Devil Armory’ and especially 2010’s incredible ‘Ironbound’ have increased the thrashing intensity, which in combination with their punkish vigor and relentless grooves account for excellent contemporary thrash metal. And while ‘The Grinding Wheel’ doesn’t quite reach that level, it’s another worthy addition to the band’s discography.

Initially, I was a bit underwhelmed by the first tracks that surfaced. While I really like the chorus of first single ‘Our Finest Hour’, the verse riff was lifted note for note from the superior ‘Electric Rattlesnake’ and opening track ‘Mean, Green, Killing Machine’ had an interesting middle section with Bobby ‘Blitz’ Ellsworth’s cleanest vocal performance in years – something he repeats in a few other tunes on the album – but also felt a bit like OverKill going through the motions. While neither are among my favorites, they admittedly make a little more sense within the context of the album.

Especially the second half of the record contains a few gems. ‘Red White And Blue’ for instance, a ripping, hardcore-infused thrasher in the same vein as ‘Pig’ on the previous record. The closing title track is an epic work of art comparable in style and atmosphere to ‘In The Name’ and the classic ‘Gasoline Dream’. That gothic doom-like outro is unlike anything OverKill has ever done before. ‘The Wheel’ is another masterpiece; it goes through several distinct movements – with especially that brooding verse riff being beyond amazing – without ever feeling disjointed. Three tracks that end the album on a great note.

But there’s more. ‘The Long Road’ is classic OverKill meets Iron Maiden’s triumphant twin guitar melodies with Dave Linsk – who truly outdoes himself on the entire record – soloing wildly over it. The groovy ‘Come Heavy’ shows the band’s Black Sabbath influences even more obviously than their tendency to switch to something completely different halfway through the songs. Out of the songs with more subdued tempos, ‘Shine On’ takes the cake. Partially because the thrashiness of the riff contrasts wonderfully with the relatively laid-back rhythm. ‘Let’s All Go To Hades’ is the most punky song of the bunch and while I generally prefer the band’s more metal material, the dual lead vocal harmony is excellent.

Some bands are just impossible to slow down. OverKill is one of them. Where many bands that started around the same time – they’ve been around since 1980 – exist solely on nostalgia, OverKill still manages to push themselves to some spirited performances and a few excellent tracks. And even more amazing is the fact that Ellsworth’s voice never manages to lose any of its vicious power. While ‘The Grinding Wheel’ isn’t the latter day masterpiece that ‘Killbox 13’ or ‘Ironbound’ was, it grew on me after a few spins, by which point it was impossible to sit still. Especially to that triple threat at the end of the record.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Grinding Wheel’, ‘Red White And Blue’, ‘The Wheel’

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 38-2016: Kreator – Endorama


‘Endorama’ is Kreator’s most controversial album for a reason. It’s just not a very good reason. Sure, it’s not the Thrash Metal that the Germans are known for, but flirting with New Wave, Postpunk and early Gothrock influences has made the record unique, both in Kreator’s disography and in the European metal scene. People might think you may have to look for rifs between the atmospherics, but ‘Endorama’ is still very much a guitar driven album. A rather memorable one at that. Only the fact that their masterpiece ‘Coma Of Souls’ was released in 1990 keeps this from being Kreator’s best nineties record.

Maybe the presence of former Coroner guitarist Tommy Vetterli has left people with the wrong expectations. Instead of bringing the complexity of the Swiss geniuses with him, his Kreator debut ‘Outcast’ is the band’s simplest record to date. Here, his influence is most felt in the production. The shoddy industrial leanings of the previous three records are exorcized in favor of a more atmospheric, layered approach that feels a little like what Coroner did on ‘Grin’. The main difference is that ‘Endorama’ borrows from the Goth scene, bringing to mind The Sisters Of Mercy, Bauhaus and late eighties Killing Joke.

Admittedly, the low budget video of suited-up frontman Mille Petrozza in a nightclub was a little awkward, but ‘Chosen Few’ is actually a really good song. The rhythm may be borrowed from Killing Joke’s ‘Love Like Blood’, but it’s effective. In fact, never before or since has Jürgen ‘Ventor’ Reil’s drum work had so much swing. Petrozza’s surprisingly intimate vocal performance also works wonders. Another highlight is ‘Shadowland’, probably the most “Metal” song on the album. The main theme is excellent and memorable, while the riff work gives the song a vibe somewhat reminiscent of Nevermore.

Easily the most Gothic moment on the record is ‘Passage To Babylon’, with its strong focus on Christian Giesler’s bass line and the piano part. Petrozza’s voice has a somewhat tormented quality, which really adds to the dark atmosphere of the track. The subtle orchestral samples in ‘Everlasting Flame’ are also something that could only appear on this Kreator record. Closing track ‘Tyranny’ improves upon the ‘Outcast’ formula by better dynamics and a really strong melodic theme, while the remarkably upbeat, catchy opener ‘Golden Age’ could at the time have been a minor hit for any band without Kreator’s prominent Thrash Metal history.

While the album does wane a little bit towards the end – ‘Soul Eraser’ and the relatively riffy ‘Pandemonium’ aren’t quite as strong as the rest of the record – and more variation in the tempos may have made it even better, ‘Endorama’ is a record full of well-written songs, strong performances and an excellent production. Petrozza is rightfully still proud of the record. And that’s a good thing, because I hate it when musicians try to cover up their willful experiments. If you’re not a Thrash conservative, give the album a chance. Just forget that the band ever recorded ‘Pleasure To Kill’ and let these amazing songs work their magic. It’s well worthy of your attention.

Recommended tracks: ‘Shadowland’, ‘Chosen Few’, ‘Passage To Babylon’

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’