Tuesday, November 12, 2002

Review: Nocturnal Rites - Shadowland (2002)

Nocturnal Rites [ Website | MySpace | Facebook | Twitter ]

Nocturnal Rites offer up their fifth installment of Euro-Power Metal with Shadowland. Though not straying too much from their core twin-guitar sound, the band has experimented with slight shifts in musical direction over the past couple of albums. Vocalist Jonny Lindkvist is not quite the typical Euro-wailer, but serves up his gritty delivery in the mid to upper ranges and is not in a constant state of "soaring". This fits the music well and gives the band a slightly more American Power Metal sound than their contemporaries.

On Afterlife, Nocturnal Rites presented a darker sound and emotion than their previous albums (as well as introduced new vocalist Lindkvist) but Shadowland makes a slight shift back towards more upbeat harmonies. The album is still heavy, with chugging riffs, in-your-face licks, and outstanding double-bass aggression.

That being said, there really are only a few moments that stand out from the rest of the album. "Eye of the Dead" and "Revelation" both offer catchy choruses which manage to stick with you as well as some lightly Progressive keyboard work from Mattias Bernhardsson. "Faceless God" is my favorite song on the album. It's not an all out blistering assault, but a mid-paced heavy riffing song that showcases each element of Nocturnal Rites working together in perfection. Lindkvist works in a lower vocal range than anywhere else on the album, and I think it is here that he best fits the music. His raspy voice blends best with the darker, heavier sort of metal presented on this track. Dark Power Metal is still a somewhat rare commodity these days, and I think the band would do well to trudge down this path more often in order to fill the void.

Although I've spun this disc several times before writing a review, I can't seem to get past the fact that overall the album doesn't really leave an impression. This is not at all to say that Shadowland isn't good; quite the contrary. The album is an excellent piece of tight, technically proficient metal crafted into fine songs. Unfortunately, there are a lot of bands out there delivering the same package.

Track Listing
1 Eyes Of The Dead
2 Shadowland
3 Invincible
4 Revelation
5 Never Die
6 Underworld
7 Vengeance
8 Faceless God
9 Birth Of Chaos
10 The Watcher

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Thursday, October 31, 2002

Review: Poison - Hollyweird (2002)

Poison [ Website | MySpace | Facebook ]
Cyanide Records

Unlike some metal bands from the '80s who've altered their style to fit today's commercial pigeonholes, Poison actually dug back to the mighty days of Hair Metal and have compiled an album which sounds as if it was recorded more than 15 years ago. Is that a bad thing? Hell no!! Hollyweird is a massive dose of classic Poison that honors, as it improves upon, the great Hair Metal tradition.

This album, the band's seventh, incorporates elements from Poison's first three records in such a way that it sounds logically to be the follow-up to Flesh & Blood. Bret Michaels' recognizable vocals, and harmonica interludes, remain unchanged, C.C. Deville's licks are delivered just as we've come to expect, the anthemic choruses stick with you, and the overall melody and harmony screams L.A. sleaze. What is different is that we hear C.C. on lead vocals (first off on "Emporer's New Clothes"). The new formula works well, and provides a nice variation on what we're used to.

The third track, "Shooting Star", could be called "Fallen Angel Pt. 2". Lyrically, the song tells the same story but in a slightly more mature way. The melodies and licks, however, give it all the freshness it needs. The cover of Jethro Tull's "Squeeze Box" is, at the very least, a questionable choice to be included on the album. I can understand why the band would adopt the tune, given the sleazy connotations that can be associated with the lyrics, but in this case it just doesn't work and sounds very out of step with the quality of the disc. "Livin' In The Now" stands out to me as the best track on Hollyweird for its catchy chorus and awesome groove. The guitars are a little fuzzier than typical Poison style, but it works well. This is also a track where C.C. handles the lead vox, and he tackles the upbeat lyrical delivery with excellence.

A bit of a unique experiment comes with two tracks titled "Home", but subtitled "Bret's Story" and "C.C.'s Story". Basically the same song musically (both of which call for some serious air drumming), lyrically they give different retrospectives on life. Both are humorous and catchy and fit well with the overall mood of the album.

Besides the cover tune, my biggest complaint has to do with the length of the songs. Six of the tracks clock in at less than 3 minutes, bringing the overall running time down around 42 minutes. Those minor points aside, Hollyweird scores a hit and should be in the collection of any self-respecting metalhead that partied through the glory days of big hair.

Track Listing
2Squeeze Box
3Shooting Star
4Wishful Thinkin'
5Get Ya Some
6Emporer's New Clothes
7Devil Woman
9Livin' In The Now
10Stupid, Stoned & Dumb
11Home (Bret's Story)
12Home (C.C.'s Story)

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Friday, October 25, 2002

Review: Speedealer - Second Sight (2002)

Speedealer [ MySpace ]
Second Sight
Palm Records

What came to mind immediately after my first spin of Speedealer's latest release, Second Sight, is how wonderfully diverse the album is. With former Metallica  bassist Jason Newsted in the production seat, the band manages to pack Speed Metal, retro Thrash, Stoner Metal, and Hardcore into one tight mind-blowing package.

"Days Of Red" stands out as one of the speediest guitar attacks on the album. Vocalist Jeff Hirshberg sounds, at times, a bit like Al Jourgensen of Ministry. The choruses seem straight out of Garage Days-era Metallica, and Eric Schmidt throws in a few fiery licks for good measure. There are some Black Sabbath-like trudging interludes, but overall the tune forces some serious headbanging.

"As Ever" follows with an awesome groove and a fearsome punkish vocal delivery, while "Kill Myself Tonight" could be a long lost tune from The Stooges with Hirshberg emulating the legendary Iggy Pop quite well and Schmidt's fuzzy downtuned guitar sounding straight out of the era.

Sadly, Speedealer called it quits as a band this past December (2002).

Track Listing
1 Leave Me Alone
2 Second Sight
3 All The Things You'll Never Be
4 The Thin Air
5 Days Of Red
6 As Ever
7 Kill Myself Tonight
8 Blinded
9 Fractured
10 Slowly, Burning...Alive
11 Infintesimal
12 Machinations

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Review: The Buzzhorn - Disconnected (2002)

The Buzzhorn [ MySpace ]

The Buzzhorn, a quartet hailing from Milwaukee, WI, are certainly not metal. They fall into today's popular post-grunge, heavy alterna-rock category that clogs the airwaves of America. What makes this band different, and therefore worthy of mention on this site, is their ability to stand above the pack and bring a breath of freshness to what has become a nearly intolerable genre of music. Having been compared to Alice In Chains, Puddle of Mudd, and Monster Magnet, this band actually walks a line which incorporates the best elements of the aforementioned acts. Relying on solid riffing and anthemic choruses, and plenty of distortion, The Buzzhorn has put together a solid major-label debut.

Disconnected is an album which itself walks a line between a heavy, aggressive alterna-metal sound and a sort of Matchbox 20 or 3 Doors Down lethargy. I would like to think the band will focus on the former direction, but being signed to a major label will most assuredly keep the band's creative input to a minimum. Of course I favor the heavier tracks, and it's quite hard to pick one out as a favorite. Each is really unique, blending common elements in creative mixtures to produce fresh sounding tunes on nearly every track. If you're a fan of any of the bands I mentioned above, or are interested in some solid groove-oriented modern rock, this is an album that won't let you down.

Track Listing
1 To Live Again
2 Ordinary
3 Satisfied
4 Pinned to the Ground
5 Out Of My Hands
6 Isn't This Great
7 Disconnected
8 Come See Me
9 Rhino
10 Waste of a Man
11 Carry Me Home
12 Holy Man

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Saturday, October 12, 2002

Review: Midline - Midline (2002)

Midline [ MySpace | Facebook ]

Formed in Boise, Idaho, in 1990, Midline is another post-grunge semi-metallic band with similarities to Nickelback, 3 Doors Down, Soundgarden, etc. Prior to this, their self-titled national debut, they released two self-financed albums that were popular within the Northwest music scene and propelled them into tours with Drowning Pool, Mötley Crüe, and Coal Chamber. Though Midline falls into a crowded genre, they're not without uniqueness as nearly every song on the disc contains a different catchy hook or melody. Despite this, the overall pace of the album seems a bit sluggish and bereft of energy. The tempo within each song is altered, with a slow weightiness that builds in speed and aggression before returning to the starting pace. For example, the first track "Never Wrong" opens with a leisurely rhythmic beat then explodes into an engaging riff before returning to the slow and steady cadence. In fact, the structure of the album somewhat mirrors this trend, with slower-paced almost ballad-like tracks at the beginning and end of the disc, with a set of powerful rockers among the middle cuts. This consistency results in a smooth, if predictable, flow but a sense of sameness was enough for me to require a couple of spins before I was able to pick out the subtleties of guitarist Scott Elliot's songcraft.

As far as stand out tunes go, I found "Sorrow" to be the most aggressive, powerful, and heavy-hitting tune on the album. Elliot's heavy riffing is a perfect compliment to singer Anthony Fagiano's deeply emotive vocals. This track exhibits the band at its best, and should be the focus of their future musical inspiration. The following song, "The Good Life", doesn't come close to the outright energy of "Sorrow" but is superbly heavy in its own right. This sort of heaviness and aggression can be found here and there throughout the disc, but it still tends to be overshadowed by the overall lack of energy.

Appropriately named, Midline tends to be a mediocre album that offers nothing to separate itself from the hundreds of modern rock clones cluttering the radio waves today. I would suggest that the band open up a little more and pour some serious aggression, heaviness, and energy into their next offering. This is by no means a bad album, however, but is also not something to get overly excited about either.

Track Listing
1 Never Wrong
2 Blue
3 More Than This
4 Removed
5 The Sun
6 Sorrow
7 The Good Life
8 Bygones
9 One of Many
10 Stay Awake
11 What You Want
12 Another Day
13 Too Long
14 Carney Girl

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Friday, March 8, 2002

Review: Cruachan - Folk-Lore (2002)

Cruachan [ Website | MySpace | Facebook ]

Cruachan need no introduction in their native Ireland, but metalheads in the U.S. may not have heard their name before. Once a black metal hopeful, they drastically altered their musical style on their sophomore effort, The Middle Kingdom. On that album they began to meld more classic metal styles with traditional Irish melodies, folk songs, and instruments creating what can be described as Celtic Metal (the band prefers the term pagan metal, however). There have been other bands to do so in the past, but none have done it as successfully as the lads (and lass) of Cruachan.

Folk-Lore, the band's third offering, follows in the footsteps of The Middle Kingdom as far as style but shows a slight maturation of melody. The traditional instruments are used frequently, but every song on the album is heavy and emotional. Even the ballad "Ride On", with guest appearance by Shane MacGowan (The Pogues), comes off as one of the heavier tunes on the disc. Lyrically the songs focus exclusively on Irish history and myth, each tune explained in great detail in the disc's accompanying booklet. "The Rocky Road To Dublin" and "Spancill Hill" (the latter sung entirely by MacGowan) are traditional Irish folk tunes adapted quite well to Cruachan's brand of metal.

I would have to say my favorite track on Folk-Lore is the first one, "Bloody Sunday". Inspired by the massacre of innocent Irish civilians by the British Army at Derry on January 30th, 1972, Cruachan's composition is heavy and emotionally powerful. A close runner-up is "Ride On", showcasing both Shane MacGowan's unmistakable voice and the soothing vocals of Karen Gilligan - as well as harsh interjections by Keith Fay.

With all that I have said about their musical change in direction, the Black Metal elements are not entirely absent. The last track on the album, "To Invoke The Horned God", is a remastered version of the song from their debut Tuatha Na Gael. Keith's harsh vocals also appear on several other tunes, either alone or complimenting Karen's beautiful harmonies.

Though there is nothing I dislike about Folk-Lore, I don't think "The Rocky Road To Dublin" was done as well as it could have been. It almost seems as if the arrangement was rushed, resulting in the vocals seeming slightly out of pace with the tempo. Aside from that, I rate this album as one you should definitely purchase. I eagerly look forward to future offerings from these unique musicians, and hope a tour to the U.S. is not too much to wish for!

Track Listing
1 Bloody Sunday
2 The Victory Reel (Instrumental)
3 Death Of A Gael
4 The Rocky Road To Dublin
5 Ossian's Return
6 Spancill Hill
7 The Children Of Lir
8 Ride On
9 Susie Moran
10 Exiles
11 To Invoke The Horned God

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Wednesday, March 6, 2002

Review: Ozzy Osbourne - Down To Earth (2001)

Ozzy Osbourne [ Website | MySpace | Facebook | Twitter ]
Down To Earth

Ozzy Osbourne, the undisputed Godfather of Heavy Metal, comes at us with his first solo studio album in six years. Joining Ozzy on his eighth album are guitarist Zakk Wylde, bassist Robert Trujillo (Suicidal Tendencies) and drummer Mike Bordin (Faith No More) - a lineup that can arguably be considered a super-group. Anyhow, Ozzy has a trademark sound that he has perfected over the years, and Down To Earth sticks to the tried and true formula. This album returns to a heavy sound not heard since No Rest For The Wicked, but the highly polished production takes the edge off slightly. No new directions for the Oz-man on the disc, but it is pure Ozzy that his fans will love.

The second track on the album, "Facing Hell", is probably the best of the disc. Very heavy with just a touch of keys for atmosphere, this tune kicks some serious ass. "Get Me Through" (a very Sabbath-like, heavy, chunky tune), "Alive", and "That I Never Had" keep pace and definitely do not disappoint.

Now, this wouldn't be an Ozzy album without the obligatory ballad or two, and the three on Down To Earth are the best I've heard since "Mama, I'm Coming Home". "Dreamer" is typical introspective Ozzy not only in lyrical content, but on first listen I immediately thought of "Goodbye To Romance". "You Know...(Part 1)" clocks in at just over a minute, but the Beatlesque influences are unmistakable.

Overall I was pleased with Down To Earth. Ozzy has had an illustrious career in the world of heavy metal, but it's still great to see him unleash an album of this caliber (I have to admit that I was worried after Ozzmosis). If I were to have a complaint, it would be about the production. Don't get me wrong, the work is perfect. Problem is, it's too perfect. To much polishing can take the hard edges off, and a metal album needs to retain some of those edges in order to be great.

Track Listing
1Gets Me Through
2Facing Hell
4No Easy Way Out
5That I Never Had
6You Know... (Part 1)
8Running Out Of Time
9Black Illusion
11Can You Hear Them?

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