Friday, April 23, 2010

Structures - All Of The Above [EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW]

Quick, what’s Canada’s number one metal export? If you guessed Devin Townsend and/or Rush (if you consider the latter proto-metal at least), then partial credit and you have excellent taste to boot, but I’m more talking about our expansive tech-death scene. Bands of note include Cryptopsy and Gorguts, the latter of whom many metalheads consider to be one of the absolute pinnacles of extreme metal.

So Toronto-based newcomers Structures are serving up a more -core-based slice of the pie, but should still find a home amongst many fans.

Now, my writing this is probably an affront to any notions of even-handed professionalism, because I have to be honest – my first cousin is their bassist. But that does present us with a unique opportunity: I was able to sit down with Spencer MacLean and discuss with him about the new EP, in an exclusive interview.

Shrewd Vibrations: Hey, Spence. Glad you could make it.

Spencer MacLean: Hey Corey, good to see you again.

SV: So your debut record, or EP to be more precise, All Of The Above, was released this month. Could you talk a bit about the creative process that went into your songwriting?

SM: Umm…creative process. Alright, basically, we all spent about four or five months writing the EP. We scheduled recording time before we were even done, just before we were done any of the songs, just so we could push ourselves to finish in a timely manner.

So we did that, and then mainly, Andrew, Brendon and Spee [Spyros] came up with most of the basic ideas, and song formations. The rest of us pretty much just added our own little touches onto it, and collectively ended up with what we have.

Lyrically, myself, Nick, Spee and Andrew sat down for about a week and recorded rough tracks of just basically demo-ing ideas for vocals. Just trying out different vocal patterns to get the sound we were looking for. When it came time for the studio, we probably wrote about a song and a half while the guitars were being tracked.

SV: In the pre-Structures days, you were known as Charitys Downfall, and then Charity’s, and you played a style that wasn’t as influenced by technical death metal. Tell us how your new name and image reflect your music as it is now.

SM: Pretty much image-wise, we grew up a little bit, I guess you could say. Our musical taste did the exact same, and we started getting into different music ourselves, and deciding that instead of creating a generic form of music, we decided to take as many elements from as many different styles of music that we possibly could and combine them as one. Including, I guess you could say death metal, hardcore, pop-punk, and just trying to create something that hasn’t been heard before, while keeping with the heavy roots we have.

SV: Tell us about your musical influences, and the mindset that you take when you incorporate their influence into your music – be it a desire to capture the spirit that they had, or to take an existing style and enhance it in your own way, et cetera.

SM: We do a little bit of both, actually. We like to take a style that’s already been created, and play with it as much as we can. For instance, each member listens to fairly different music, ranging from the heaviest of death metal to the softest acoustic songs. Influences, for instance, would be Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza, Misery Signals, Veil Of Maya, After The Burial, Periphery, Circa Survive, The Faceless, This Will Destroy You, Explosions In The Sky, Converge, Minus The Bear, Sky Eats Airplane and pretty much along those lines.

SV: It’s been said that consciousness is manifested through creation, and this is certainly true in the case of music. Can you talk about how your own inner thoughts and feelings are expressed through a “brutal” musical medium?

SM: Collectively as a whole, we all grew up listening to slightly heavier styles of music, and obviously wanted to emulate that. So when we got the chance to, and saw the energy that the crowd gave us, we decided to feed off that and continue on the road, and keep playing things that both challenge and excite us.

The live energy is really what drives it. It really has to be the determining factor that keeps us playing this style. We all love to see our crowds’ reaction and to notice that someone’s getting into your music, and flinging themselves across the floor, (laughs), really stands out for us. Along with lyrically, we all feel that our we can all relate in our own ways to the things we talk about.

SV: In this day and age, sites like Myspace have become the new tape-trading as a popular way for young bands to get noticed, but word of mouth still plays a very important role, and that’s seemed to work out very well for you. Since you were in this position not too long ago, what advice do you have for all those young bands who are out there playing shows and hoping to gain a following from word of mouth, and eventually scrape together enough to put out a record?

SM: I’d say that we’re still pretty much in the same boat, but basically, when you get to a show, play your heart out, pretty much. You want to be remembered as that band that had energy and got kids going, and overall left everyone with a good impression. Trying to do something different with your music is always a plus, and the easiest way to stand out in a venue filled with more conventional styles of music. Along with saving every bit of money you possibly have, because you will inevitably spend all of it (emphasis Spencer) before you get anywhere.

SV: Looking towards the future, let’s tackle what I’m sure is on a lot of fans’ minds: you’ve shown what you can do within the confines of an EP, but what are your expectations or hopes for the first full-length, musically and financially?

SM: Alright, where to start on this one…we’ve already scrapped one of the new songs we wrote, due to the feeling that it just wasn’t up to par with the EP. We’re looking to basically blow that EP out of the water, along with challenge ourselves even more musically and grasp what we cannot even play right now.

Currently we’ve got maybe a song and a half written, very subject to change. But we’re looking to go a little more in the direction of hardcore music, along with keeping it tech-y and heavy. Hopefully it’ll turn into something that’ll knock your socks off.

I think we’re giving ourselves around six to seven months to produce nine to ten songs, with all the characteristics mentioned before, along with showing a new side of each member’s musicianship. Expect rough demos to be up within the next few months. But as for the full-length, it probably won’t be out any time soon.

SV: Any last words?

SM: PLEASE check us out on our Misery Signals/Amity Affliction tour, going through Ontario, from May 18th to the 28th. If you already haven’t, please support us as much as you can, because I can vouch that we are all starving musicians. Check us out in the June issue of Alternative Press magazine, under the “Hometown Hero” section.

SV: Thanks for coming out. It’s been a pleasure.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Kiuas - The Spirit Of Ukko

*NOTE: originally written for*

Finnish power metal is a subject that seems to be generally stereotyped by more down and dirty metalheads as being fluffy, light, and that hand-grenade of a genre descriptor, “flowery”. This is an interesting release, because with one smashing debut album, Kiuas managed to play around with, AND shatter that stereotype.

Keyboards are ever-present here, bringing out the kind of wintery atmosphere characteristic of the Finnish scene in bands like Nightwish and Sonata Arctica. But they’re reinforced by enough riffs to slap any would-be dissenter across the face for days, accented by a sharp, blunt production job.

I disagree with certain people’s phrasing of Dragonforce as “extreme power metal”. They’re pretty stereotypical power metal in their melody structuring, albeit hopped up on that trademark speed that’s made them infamous (among other things). This album is a much purer representation of the idea of “extreme power metal”: it’s power metal, but with elements more characteristic with extreme metal such as tremolo-picked riffs, blastbeats that interplay with the riffs in such a way, and the occasional harsh singing backing Ilja Jalkanen’s already naturally rough lead vocal work.

For me, the highlight songs are those that play up on this unique, frosty blend of power metal and extreme metal: the title track is extraordinarily up-front with its extreme tendencies, yet in the same breath proudly boasts the strong melodies and memorable vocal lines more characteristic with power metal, while On Winds Of Death We Ride grapples with thrashy melodies that possess a sense of grandeur – I hesitate to use the oft-oversaturated term Epic, but there is a sense of it here. Warrior Soul is an exceptional display of performer dexterity melded with aggressive, yet supremely catchy and memorable writing.

The less furious songs are by no means bad, though – No More Sleep For Me delivers a haunting tale whose atmosphere draws you in and is a welcome break from the assault, while the soft breaks that occasionally enter into the heavier tracks not only deeply accent the frigid atmosphere, but don’t even feel out of place, instead complimenting the rest of the song.

The only thing holding this record back for me is that the second half doesn’t quite match up to the furious majesty of the first half. Even then, perhaps I just need to let it grow on me some more. None the less, this is a wonderful, unique album. A requisite for fans of Finnish metal.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Deadly Sin - Sunborn

It’s a bit sad that for every band that succeeds well beyond their own expectations, there are many groups who seem to have everything going for them, yet for some reason or another, never get very far off the ground.

This German (Or Finnish – inexplicably, I’ve heard both nationalities toted around by reputable sources) band is one of those forgotten gems. Their sole album shows remarkable maturity for a debut record: the compositions are both memorable and impressively ambitious – check out the second half of Into Dementia. Deadly Sin’s brand of thrashy power/prog should appeal to fans of Iced Earth and Jag Panzer – hell, the vocalist even sounds a tiny bit like Harry Conklin at points.

These boys certainly know their way around their instruments, as well – the driving melody in the solo section of Slave is going to need a forklift to get out of your head once it’s in there. Most of the album is rooted in a Germanic/US-style power metal framework, although the title track brings the thrash influences in full-tilt, and they wear it well. The singer has that Dio-like quality where he enunciates everything clearly enough to hear without ever needing to reach for a lyric sheet, and he belts his lines with conviction – everything seems to be in place, with far more maturity than you might expect from a debut.
The only real gripe I have with this record is that it’s not produced as warmly, or tightly, as they may have gotten a chance to do if their career had continued. With how impressive this debut effort is, just imagine how their instrumental and songwriting skills would have matured several records later. I don’t know what happened that led to their silent dissolving, but I do know you should seek this out if you’re a fan of the style(s).

Friday, April 9, 2010

Converge - Axe To Fall

Right from the second you push “play” on your stereo or MP3 player, it becomes clear that Converge is the love/hate band to end all love/hate bands, thanks to vocals that are so indecipherable that, my theory goes, the brain doesn’t even attempt to try and decipher them into discernible words like it will with death/black vocal styles; musicality that’s borderline and broodingly vicious at its tamest and downright schizophrenic at its wildest; song structures that defy explanation.

They’re also the ultimate album band. Taken individually, Converge songs are at best fragmented, and at worst just sheer noise, even to someone used to extreme music. But taken as a whole, their albums paint a picture of a harsh, urban landscape, almost poetic in its omnipresent violence. I really have to be in the right mood to enjoy Converge, but when I am, wow – what an effect.

So this, Converge’s latest opus, is my personal favourite of their catalogue, blending their (very, very) hardcore framework with a greater dose of metallic riffwork, leading to a more memorable and melodic base. But even then, the melodies just seem “not quite right”; stuff like the lead near the start of Dark Horse could even disorient you if you’re not paying attention, in that it sounds just a step “off” – but somehow, it all works.

After such a hardline assault, the album climaxes with two sludgy, gruesome monsters; listened to under the right conditions, slow-burners Cruel Bloom and Wretched World can be downright frightening to the faint of heart.

The inner album sleeve reads, “We may get better – we won’t get well.” They certainly did get better, and I do hope they never get well, because only the truly sick could funnel it into such a demented, insane piece of art like this. Recommended to anyone who wants to get “fucked up”.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Sentenced - Crimson

There’s something intensely cathartic about the despair present on any of Sentenced’s post-North From Here records. Despite the more straightforward, even at times rock-oriented structures, the various elements of the Northernmost Killers’ later music seems to elevate into something greater than the sum of its parts, enveloping you in a very moody experience no matter the album.

They’re also amazingly catchy, but they do it without pandering to the lowest common denominator; rather than structure their music around hooks, they work them into the gloomy compositions that already work extraordinarily well.

The type of gloom predominant on Crimson is that of broken relationships, most notably on the excellent Killing Me Killing You, which features that characteristic blend of melancholy and memorable melody. And of course, despite the fair share of troubles Ville is singing about, these boys always did know how to rock hard: fan favourite Broken is bound to get any fan of traditional metal at least nodding along. Dark Tranquillity covered Broken with a more polished production job and more diverse vocals (Stanne using both his clean and harsh styles), yet that cover doesn’t touch this original, and sirs and madams, I love me some Dark Tranquillity, so that’s not a bash. There’s a certain atmosphere that Sentenced creates in their music, despairing but never plodding, that I can’t get enough of.

I did mention production, though, and I do have my gripes with this album’s mixing. It’s nothing major, and I can live with it, but sometimes the vocals feel buried, the guitars feel a touch too loud…The Cold White Light has what I would consider the ideal production job for later Sentenced, so they weren’t too far off on this release.

But if that’s the worst issue I can think of off the top of my head, we’re in business. Recommended to both rock and metal fans.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Meat Loaf - Bat Out Of Hell III: The Monster Is Loose

Best voice in rock? Meat’s got my vote. Aday makes the sleaziest lyrics sound unbelievably romantic, all while rocking the operatic bat metaphors like nobody’s business. But in anticipation of his upcoming album, I thought I’d give the darkest entry of Meat’s catalogue an overview.

Bat Out Of Hell’s title track may be one of the greatest songs of all time, but this album has actually gotten more listens from me than his first masterpiece; maybe it’s because the album finds more ways to grab me and pull me in, while still maintaining the integrity we’ve come to expect from Meat and co.

This is definitely a more guitar-oriented album, and its influences come from unexpected places: members from Motley Crue and Marilyn Manson contributed to the making of the quasi-title track, and the influence shows in its modernized verses – though its desperate chorus betrays a newer side of Meat, and the softer middle section is a slice of that classic Loaf.

And if that isn’t your bag, the next few songs are everything you’ve come to expect from Meat Loaf: soaring choruses, heartfelt strains and the kind of unremitting romance you could only truly find in song. Everything does betray a desperate tone like the title track, though – while on previous albums, Meat was fooling around with fast women in the backs of cars, on this album it’s “Your heart is kind / mine’s painted black” and “I want you to cry over me / die over me…”

Which brings me to In The Land Of The Pig, The Butcher Is King, by far Meat’s darkest song ever: over brooding, downright Wagnerian orchestration and guitar laid down by Mr. Steve Vai, Meat snarls his way through a tale of societal upheaval that fits more with the monstrous aesthetic of the title track than with the broken love songs on display here. This is fucking brilliant, though on a completely different level than classics like Bat Out Of Hell and Paradise By The Dashboard Light.

Oh, those kinds of songs are still there: Alive is guaranteed to get you tapping your foot, or drumming your fingers, while Seize The Night just might be in league with the aforementioned Bat Out Of Hell itself, with its unforgettable orchestral swells and atmosphere.

And plus, you have to give credit to a song that makes getting oral sound like pure poetry.

I can throw out all kinds of adjectives for how much I enjoy an album, but I really know it’s one of my all-time favourites when I get that familiar tingle down my spine just from writing about it. I’m not familiar with Meat Loaf’s fan community, so I don’t know how this album was received (Certainly, there was an enthusiastic reception to Meat’s coming at the Toronto show a mere week after the album released), but it reigns as one of my favourite rock records of all time.

So bottom line: get it, pop it in and set the monster loose.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Cauldron Born - Born Of The Cauldron

The band claims themselves to be “Epic Barbarian Metal”, and…that sounds about right to me.

Here we’ve got a release that falls into the Manilla Road school of power/heavy metal, and fans of the style know what that means: the riffs are huge and catchy, but not without immaculate care in their construction; the vocals are high as hell, channeling an early Geoff Tate in this instance; the songs wind and twist like the ancient labyrinths that are belted out about in the lyrics.

It seems more straightforward than a lot of Manilla Road, though, but it’s still very good. My only gripe (talking about the reissue, don’t know about the original) is that the production suffers from that too-loud-for-the-speakers issue that’s plagued many records recently, most notably Metallica’s Death Magnetic. You can kind of hear the riffs snap, crackle and pop as they breach some kind of intangible clarity threshold, but it doesn’t really hurt the music itself.

The performances are enthusiastic, and the songs are written creatively and fluidly. It’s a good album, but because the original version was very limited and the reissue completely did not help matters to that end (1000 numbered copies), if you’re a fan of the style, get one while you still can.

Napalm Death - Scum

I risk the wrath of extreme metalheads everywhere for this, but as for Napalm Death’s debut, immensely influential as it is…I just can’t find a lot of things to actually praise about it, from a purely musical standpoint. Sure, we all know of the single-digit-length song You Suffer, which garnered itself a Guinness World Record for being the shortest song in existence, but I have to say – it’s about as musically enjoyable as you’d expect (IE, not). Well, maybe I shouldn’t say that; it’s not good, it’s not bad, it’s just there, and barely so – those scarce few seconds in which it exists give just enough time for absolutely nothing to happen.

Now, I know, attacking grindcore for the single-digit bursts of sharp, angry noise that it’s more or less become infamous for is like attacking power metal for those silly interludes that seem to pop up around every corner, depending on where you look; it can be a cute talking point, but ultimately an empty one because it attacks a genre for something tertiary to the core music.

But that’s the problem with this release: that rather unmemorable musical ideal of faux-brutality seeps into the more reasonably-sized songs as well – very scarcely will I stand up and say, “I’m in the mood to hear some abrasive bursts of harsh noise that may or may not be guitarwork, while some guy warbles angrily over it”, and if I did, I would probably opt for something a bit more…structurally relevant than this.

Now, I don’t want to be altogether too hard on this, since it was their first release and the pioneering of a musical style, but I have to look at the album as it stands, disconnected from all influence it spawned. To be fair, occasionally they’ll get a real nice riff or groove going, and at the very least, those moments will get your foot tapping and head bobbing. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a step up from the average bottom-rung bedroom black metal tripe that seems to be a (fundless) industry all its own in various places where the forests are deep and the facepaint is abundant – but it still doesn’t get many listens from me.

I know metalheads who will swear by this release, though, and when I look at the breadth of albums (mainly in the death metal genre; I’m not a grind fan in general, as you probably got already) that do everything this album does, but in a much stronger and more memorable fashion, I just have to ask… “Why?”

Bottom line: Might as well check it out for its influence. Just don’t expect to be blown away unless you’re the kind of grungy, down-and-dirty grind fan that lives and dies by this stuff.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Exodus - Shovel Headed Tour Machine

Ah, Wacken, the annual time when metal fans from all over Europe gather for three days of great metal music, and when many fans from all over the world make the pilgrimage as well - it only makes sense that Wacken is a hell of a great place to record a live record or DVD (in the case of the limited edition of this release, both), amongst the communal excitement in the air.

Now, a lot of the time, these Wacken shows don't have setlists quite as long as a regular one-night show would, but in this case, Exodus makes well enough up for it with an almost Maidenesque enthusiasm; Rob Dukes works the crowd into enough pits to make for an exciting show, even if the camera were entirely focused on the crowd - of amusing note are the few fans who stop in the middle of the circle pits to throw the horns to the stage, and are rammed less than a second later by the unstoppable pit crowd, like getting plowed by a rhino.

The band themselves, despite putting forth enough enthusiasm to actually be able to work such pits with ease, play their parts flawlessly, and seemingly effortlessly. I'm not a huge Exodus follower, so I haven't studied their music to the point where I can point out the smallest live erring, but the production accentuates the sharp and precise-sounding performances.

As this was recorded on the touring circuit for The Atrocity Exhibition, the band front-loads their set with several songs from that record. Now, most of the metalheads I've discussed this album with seem all too eager to cast it down to the lowest circle of musical Cocytus with the likes of St. Anger, but I never found it such a bad album, instead a decent one at heart with good ideas that get unfortunately run into the ground.

But something bothered me about those songs on-record, and I couldn't quite place it - but after watching this DVD, it hit me: these songs were made for the stage. There, combined with the band's exuberance, the overlong structures don't quite seem to matter as much, and they blend well with older classics like the gate-crashing Bonded By Blood and set highlight A Lesson In Violence.

The second DVD provides a closer look at the band and its exploits. There's nothing wrong with it at all, but I'm sure hardcore fans will get more out of this than I will.

This set is punchy, exciting and fun as hell. If you want to get your blood pumping from a nice slab of pure-blooded live thrash, grab this up; it's a worthy addition to the long line of Wacken-based recordings.

Arsis - Starve For The Devil

Christ…show of hands, who actually thought an album called Starve For The Devil would actually end up being pretty good?

Because in the months leading up to this album’s release, we sure didn’t. And by “we”, I mean pretty much everyone I came into contact with about it, Arsis fans or not. I remember busting a barrel laughing when I heard the song titles like album opener Forced To Rock (which not only sounds like something that Biff Byford would have rejected, but also seems to express a desire to not play the music that you’re about to hear), and the now-infamous Half Past Corpse O’Clock (Jesus…).

So when advance reviews of the album started rolling in, calling the album a shockingly strong entry, my ears perked. These weren’t fanboys who would praise anything their favourite band did, these seemed to be critical music fans who had a few bones to pick with Arsis over the years, and they were calling this awesome?

Some test runs of a few songs on Youtube later, I was staring at the monitor in disbelief and vowing to never bash an album based on its title or song titles again. Before I knew it, I was ordering the album that I had thought last year I would never bother to order.

Okay, so […] Corpse is still beyond ridiculous as a song title, but the music itself isn’t bad at all. The band plays tightly, giving prominence to the guitarwork: it’s memorable, it’s a little noodly in a fast-and-loose kind of way but nothing too distracting, it’s catchy and just overall fun to listen to, with cool musical tricks here and there to keep you satisfied.

This is the “other” side of tech-death, extremity-wise: on one hand, you have Origin, who are impressive as hell technically but their songwriting suffers out of their apparent desire to keep building up stockades in this arms race of brutality, and then you have Arsis, who dip even into rock-like riffs and structures at times, because parts of this definitely don’t feel much like death metal – even in the vocal work, which would fit right at home in a German thrash outfit like Destruction. It tells me that crafting music on their own terms takes greater precedence for Malone and the boys over showing that you can sweep pick at the speed of God.
Yeah, like I mentioned, there’s weedly and noodly and everything in between, but this IS tech-death we’re talking about for the most part, so give me a break. This album works for me in a way I never would have thought it would. It won’t dethrone the latest Immolation as my favourite death metal album of the year any time soon, but you don’t have to be the best to be worth checking out. So despite having one of the top ten most ridiculous death metal album titles in recent memory, and having one of the nuttiest song titles ever, check it out. You might be as surprised as I was.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Rob Rock - Holy Hell

I didn’t expect to like this half as much as I did. Here in the metal scene, people don’t seem to take very kindly to Christian related music (But Chris Barnes growling about raping dead children? That’s totally A-okay, apparently). It doesn’t help that so many of these Christian bands are your generic metalcore thing, suffering from the same issues as a gazillion secular metalcore bands anyway.

Yet here we are with a heavy/power release that barrels out of the gate with fist-pumping riffs supported by a solid rhythm section, exceedingly strong vocal work and straightforward, but certainly memorable songwriting. I once heard this band described as the ideal blend of Maiden and Priest, and I see where that comment comes from: this is like…well, maybe not Painkiller, but at least Ram It Down with a more Dickinsonian vocal performance.

But the Maiden/Priest school of singing about kickass things comes into play here as well. While bands like With Blood Comes Cleansing (A part of the aforementioned forgettable crop) are busy grunting about bible verses or whatever, here you have Rob Rock belting out lyrics about Satan, apocalypse, et cetera. Of course, his take on Satan is a more negative view consistent with Christian dogma. As someone who often immerses himself in a genre where the dark side of religiosity is so often idealized, it’s refreshing to see an upturned view of that.

And it’s not preachy, either, unlike parts of the album that succeeded this one, Garden Of Chaos. Yeah, lyrics don’t matter all that much when you can hardly understand them, but fact is, the forefronted vocal melody is a huge part of a lot of heavy and power metal, so I’m glad that Rock isn’t trying to evangelize to me here. In the song Calling Angels, there’s even a glimmer of honest agnosticism often missing from overtly Christian records, where he professes to need to know if there’s an answer above to get him through the night, and so forth.

But it’s good, solid music, and that’s what matters most. Tobi (Edguy, Avantasia) even makes an extended and memorable vocal appearance on closing ballad Move On, which shows hints of compact, but 70s-style proggery and closes the record wonderfully.
This is a superb entry into the heavy/power metal canon, and unless you’re one of –those– metalheads who claim to be all for free expression in metal and then get prissy and pissy when anything takes a slant on Christianity that doesn’t amount to “Splatter the bastard Christ by the goat of Satan”, you should get this.

Origin - Antithesis


Yeah, that pretty much sums up the musical experience.

But seriously, Origin are a ridiculously talented band from a technical standpoint. If they played any tighter, they’d create some kind of space-time singularity and suck us all into it. They put their best foot forward into playing hyper-brutal death metal that I guess would have a vaguely sci-fi/futuristic theme running throughout, if you could discern it.

There’s been a lot of discussion about how brutal death metal bands have reached this point where every band is trying to be more musically extreme, and more brutal than the last, with little regard to making such wanton brutality actually sound good. In this way, Origin embody both the worst and best of this bizarre trend to race to a never-ending finish line of brutality.

The “best” part of that comes from how Origin is able to play such brutal, insane music, and still keep everything together. It’s all played very tightly as I said, and somehow, the music doesn’t break down or fall apart. It almost feels like –this- is the threshold of brutality: the final frontier at which music can still be discernible to the human ear as anything more than a flurry of nonsensical sound. But then again, that’s the kind of thing they were saying about video game graphics with each successive generation, “It’ll never get better than it is right now”, et cetera…so, we’ll see.

The “worst” part of that statement, though…as you might expect from music of such hyper-brutality, it becomes very difficult to discern one song from the next, and listening to the whole album in one go can be physically tiring if you’ve attempted to keep up with the notes the whole way. I can appreciate it in short bursts, and it’s certainly impressive from a technical standpoint, but I think this is the kind of band where you only really need to own one album, if that. As a technical demonstration, it’s astounding, but I – and I’m sure a ton of people – look for more in music than that.
But at the very least – check the Giger-esque cover art. Pure class.

Katatonia - Live Consternation

This release is a good deal right from the start: the CD and DVD of the band's Summerbreeze performance are packaged together in what I'm told is all editions, whereas I know of many (also good) bands who would drag a little extra out of you by releasing both formats separately, or just releasing one and not the other. On a second pleasing but entirely non-musical note, that's some beautiful cover art. It matches The Great Cold Distance in tone, shade and style, yet it stands wonderfully on its own as an expression of the band's bleak, melacholy style.

The band themselves are in top form. Blakkheim's various screams and backing vocals seem to rip or soothe the very air around him - much stronger than on the studio releases. The production pays heed to the band much moreso than a fan-oriented atmosphere, which does take away -some- of the raw live feel, but it actually makes the instrumentation seem a lot more powerful than in the studio - just listen to that opening riff of Right Into The Bliss. Wonderful.

I can see where the qualms about the setlist come from: no material from no less than four records, but by this point I'm pretty sure the band was completely done playing their doom metal material - a shame for sure, but having all songs here being from their rock era helps the setlist to mesh and flow much more in the woefully short running time. Speaking of which, this show only runs under an hour - but I'm to understand this was an open-air festival, though it brings to mind why the band didn't just record a one-off date or something.

The visual quality on the DVD is crisp and clear - maybe not Rock In Rio quality, but very close, and the tasteful, appropriate cutting gives equal screen time to all band members. Some fun visual tricks are used, like superimposition of images of two band members - but they never go overboard with it, so this spices up the show and doesn't really detract anything.

I've started to become of the mindset that Katatonia has become, with their rock records, a darker, heavier and more modern equivalent of Pink Floyd in some regards, especially Jonas's subdued but emotive vocal performance which seems to channel David Gilmour through its tones. Well, this two-disc set is no Pulse, but my recommendation for all Katatonia fans is to 'meddle' on down to your local store and plunk down for this live album. It's worth the buy.

Dream Theater - Master of Puppets

*NOTE: this review was published a few years ago on, but I altered it a little for the transposition here.*

Dream Theater is a veritable musical chameleon, able to take on countless styles, themes and atmospheres. Lining up their catalogue feels completely natural, rather than forced and stilted - it's in this way that they are truly a "progressive" band that never binds itself to any single style and keeps challenging itself, setting aside the often-exaggerated accusations of pointless wankery leveled at some of their music.It's in this spirit that we have Dream Theater's full live cover of Master Of Puppets by thrash metal's most well-known [Gods or clods, depending on who you talk to]. To sum this release up in four words, coming from who is, by his own admission, a die-hard Dream Theater fan: you don't need it.

Unlike the Number Of The Beast cover album where there were neat little touches here and there, this is pretty much a carbon copy of the original for the most part, with less punchy production and some tasteful use of Rudess's keyboard to fill in the gaps left by reducing Hetfield and Hammet's lead/rythm team to a single guitar. Petrucci's playing is immaculate for the most part, albeit lacking much of the punch of the original thanks to the 'official bootleg' style of production. Myung is about as audible as Cliff was on the original recording (Read: not very). Portnoy is solid as ever, no complaints there (lest the giant mech that masquerades as his drum kit will surely devour us all). The instrumental section of the band is what makes this release a treat to own for me.

Ah, James LaBrie. I'm one of those who quite likes his vocal performance, but many DT fans know to approach the Six Degrees/Train Of Thought touring era recordings with a bit of caution - his voice was at a low point there before it swung back up to its old splendor with the Octavarium/Systematic Chaos tours. This recording, however, shows him at his worst - comparable to Once In A Livetime. I can't tell if he has a cold, if he's just tired (This is the second set in a second show of a two-night stand in Barcelona) or if he's trying to do a "tuff dood" thrash voice - but whatever it is, it didn't work. Battery lacks the convincing bite that Hetfield added to his lines, and Leper Messiah sounds less than powerful - but the title track is sung well, and James does seem to get a second wind on Damage Inc. for a nice finish to the cover set. He unfortunately drags the experience down a few notches; if his vocals had been Score-quality, the whole thing would have been brought up.

Well, what you see is what you get: it's 2002-era Dream Theater performing Master Of Puppets in its entirety. Sound good to you? Seek it out, because DT's instrumental take on the album is worth a listen for the intrepid DT fan. Doesn't interest you? Don't bother, because the actual album is pretty much just that. It’s for diehards only – it’s not essential like the Falling Into Infinity demos are. Maybe I’ll get around to reviewing that some day soon.

Eldritch - Blackenday

For some reason, the music community seems to have a hard time classifying this band. I’ve heard them referred to as power/thrash, power/prog, to my personal favourite, “Melodic techno thrash” (I know, I know…). But I haven’t been steered wrong before in the field of power/thrash, with giants like Manticora and (earlier) Iced Earth laying down what makes each genre great in combination: the pure intensity of thrash melded finely with the outstanding melody and grandeur of power metal.

Though, the only time I really felt the thrash influence on this particular release was on one of the digipak bonus tracks, Do You Believe? It utilizes a punky thrash sound that the band wears surprisingly well, but the majority of the album has a chunky power metal sound, with a hard rock edge that makes me want to recommend this to fans of later Edguy. However, it does have that sort of rigidness in the playing, which gives me the feeling that maybe it’s a little TOO tight (think later Hammerfall; nothing against them, but loosen up your riffs, guys!), rather than loose and free like, say, Slough Feg. But overall it’s good, not altogether much to say. This band gets overlooked more than they probably should, so Edguy fans, check it.

Exorcist - Nightmare Theatre

This is one of the most bizarre things in my collection. Not because of the music itself; to that end, it’s fairly standard Venom worship – not bad, but nothing to write home about. No, the real draw of this is that it’s actually Noble Savage-era Virgin Steele, under pseudonyms, who wrote, performed and released this album, apparently over or during some copyright dispute with their band founder, Jack Starr.

Now, that right there blows my mind because it exists. It’s just – imagine if Nightwish decided to put on masks and play Cannibal Corpse worship, or if Mayhem put up a fake name and started a Dream Theater cover band.

Well, I suppose it’s not THAT far-fetched. After all, Virgin Steele do exist on the more aggressive side of the power metal spectrum, and Venom were influential to more than just black and thrash. None the less, listening to this is a surreal experience; all of a sudden, David DeFeis is taking on borderline harsh vocals for the duration, while elements of the Steele sound are incorporated into a ripping thrash base. Plus, there are a few nuggets here and there for Steele fans – there’s a part that even acts as a prototype for a part that would later be used in Virgin Steele’s song The Fire God.

Shaking off the weirdness of this being DeFeis and co. and looking at it as I would any other album, though, I have to say that the constant interludes don’t really add much. The concept running through most of the album’s duration, about the Salem witchhunts, is always a welcome topic in this kind of music, and they make it work.

I’d tell you to check it out, even if just for the “what the Christ is this…?” factor, but apparently it’s kind of rare, and by “kind of”, I mean, “I don’t even know if there’s an official release”. Hell, I’m pretty sure my copy is unofficial – the liner notes are copied directly from one of the album’s reviews on metal-archives, so somebody is plagiarizing somebody, at any rate. If you can’t find it, torrent it or something, because I’m pretty sure the band isn’t making any money off this thing.

What have we here?

Over my time in the music scenes, particularly the metal scene, I've come across things that need saying, things that bear repeating and things that I might as well get out into the open. So here's to Shrewd Vibrations, a new blog where I'll be posting music reviews, as well as anything else on the topic that comes to mind.