Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Review: Commander - Rock Mission (2002)

Commander [ MySpace ]
Rock Mission

The five lads of Commander  herald themselves as the leaders of the NWOSHM movement (that's New Wave Of Swedish Heavy Metal). Hailing from Gothenburg, Sweden, one would expect their sound to encompass the brutality of the Death Metal genre which that particular Scandinavian locale has become famous for. One couldn't be more wrong, however, as Commander practice a brand of metal very similar to the NWOBHM sound of early Iron Maiden, Saxon, and Judas Priest.

From the very first notes of Rock Mission, Commander's third demo, it's clear what these guys are all about - NWOBHM to the core. Musically the band is more than competent, touching on all of the expected elements of the style. The twin-guitar riffing from Johnny Demon and Dennis Tomb is tight and efficient, while Demon's roller-coaster solos are executed flawlessly. Honcho's bass lines are very prominent, as is the skinwork of Morgan Lawbreaker. Singer Pete Destroyer certainly cannot be accused of belting out the lyrics without emotion. At times sounding very much like Bon Scott of AC/DC, Pete possesses excellent range and can hit the soaring notes without sounding strained.

Although I enjoy the music of Commander, I really struggle with the lyrical content. I get just as much of a kick from the occasional "all hail metal" song as the next metalhead, but Rock Mission is essentially a 5-song hymnal to the rock-n-roll lifestyle. Introducing a bit more variety into their songwriting would be a welcome breath of fresh air, but I honestly think the guys of Commander aren't the least bit interested in maturing their sound. Purists of the NWOBHM movement would do well to check this band out.

Track Listing
1 Crawler
2 Gonna Get Killed
3 Rock Will Set Us Free
4 Swinging The Banner
5 Motorizer

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Saturday, August 9, 2003

Review: Today I Died - History (2003)

Today I Died

It seems that along with the success of Ozzfest and bands such as Static-X, Slipknot, and Linkin Park  there has been an explosion of hardcore/emo/nu-metal bands that have latched on to the style of the genre's forerunners. Bands such as Memento, Shadows Fall, and Nothingface  have flooded the commercial metal scene, all bearing a striking resemblance to one another both in look and sound. Unlike many reviewers, I don't find originality to be the make-or-break criteria by which to judge the success of a band. While it is always a thrill to be knocked on my ass by some unique sound or style, I think it is equally important for a band to be able to rise to success through proficient musicianship and solid songwriting. So on one hand we have bands like Shadows Fall  who are clones to the extreme yet fail to do justice to their influences and instead spew elementary music that can't measure up to the lowest expectations, while on the other we have newcomers Today I Died - a southern California band teeming with energy, emotion, and (most importantly) talent.

History is Today I Died's debut EP and it is rooted solidly in the style of metal that I rambled on about in the preceding paragraph. Opening the disc with "The Day Before Tomorrow", guitarists John Robertson and Byron Forthman, along with Robert Bethel on bass, lay down the expected downtuned riffs and lines with commendable skill. Vocalist Craig Patin delivers the introspective lyrics with convincing emotion whether it be through snarled whispers, tortured screams, or clean vox. Where some singers in this genre mask their lack of vocal ability with constant screaming and "brutal" shouts, Craig displays true talent through his wide range of styles. Up next is "Simple", and here is a song that totally blew me away. This is by far TID at their best. Commencing with an unaccompanied riff that gives a feeling of calm before the storm, Bethel's bass soon joins in sounding like the occasional clap of thunder in the distance. Craig and drummer Fred Aguilera enter the mix and all hell breaks loose. The riffs chug like a runaway locomotive while Bethel's bass lines dance just below the surface and Craig alternates between impassioned singing and furious shouts. Toss in a bit of a psychedelic solo and you have what is to me the zenith of History. Being a departure from the textbook hardcore of the rest of the album, "Simple" defines what TID is capable of in terms of original composition and a tight, flawless execution thereof. The fourth track, "Better Days" is what I would consider to be the most radio-friendly song on the album with another nice riff and Craig's occasionally effected voice belting out the lyrics with ardor. A sense of familiarity comes with listening to this song, which makes it a candidate for success in the mainstream.

For those looking for something new and fresh, with few exceptions History is probably not the place to be conducting your search. If you're a fan of solid songwriting and excellent musicianship, whatever the style of metal, then Today I Died is a band worth checking out. Visit their page at IUMA, listen to their songs, and drop them an email. As of the writing of this review History was free for the asking, so pick it up and spread the word.

Track Listing
1 The Day Before Tomorrow
2 Simple
3 Paralyzed
4 Better Days
5 Grace

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Friday, August 8, 2003

Review: Circle of Nero - Brutal Harvest (2003)

Circle of Nero [ MySpace ]
Brutal Harvest

Brutal Harvest is Virginia-based Circle Of Nero's sophomore release and is an exciting example of the quintet's potential to explode to the forefront of the American metal scene. The album encompasses a vast spectrum of influences including thrash, prog, goth, nu-metal, classic metal, and more. Thinking that such a wide range of styles would come together in disjointed fashion would be a mistake, because like a kaleidoscope Circle Of Nero have blended their influences into a multi-faceted work of art.

The disc opens with an eerie monologue that immediately brought to mind Allister Fiend's preamble to Mötley Crüe's classic album Shout At The Devil. And then all hell breaks loose. Singer Gary McCaffrey explodes from the speakers in a howl of rage to signal the start of "Blood Play". In the spirit of Mudvayne, the downtuned nu-metal riffs and harsh vocals drive the song to the depths of heaviness. Scott Carter's lush keyboards, however, and Koky Flores' clean solos add a unique element to the core sound and create what has become my favorite track on the album. "Stigmata" combines a prog feel with driving double-kick and flowing leads while McCaffrey belts out the lyrics in a style slightly reminiscent of Layne Staley (Alice In Chains). Then, just after the 3-minute mark, McCaffrey launches into a high-speed verbal tirade (think David Draiman of Disturbed) as Flores and drummer Jake Vorrath accelerate into pure thrash fury. After a spacey, somewhat sinister opening, "Serial X" rumbles on at a mid-tempo pace. Once again McCaffrey impresses me with his powerful delivery. Prior to recording Brutal Harvest, the band parted ways with original singer Doyle Stone and brought McCaffrey into the fold. The move has definitely paid off, as Gary's phenomenal range and passionate style fit in perfectly with the musical direction of Circle Of Nero. The most progressive song on the album, "Scattered Remains", begins with a subtle piano intro leading to Thomas Staples' somber bass line which is quite familiar - think Iron Maiden's "Rime Of The Ancient Mariner". A heavy stop-start riff accompanied by lush keys carries the song steadily onward to Flores' most assertive solo of the album. The song tops out at over 6 minutes and serves as a showcase for CON's diverse influences.

Altogether Brutal Harvest is one solid album of kick-ass metal that shows Circle Of Nero is ready to step up from the American underground scene. With their seamless combination of brutality and accessibility, it shouldn't be long before they do.

Track Listing
1 Time Is The Killer
2 Stigmata
3 Dirge
4 Scattered Remains
5 Another Brick in the Wall
6 Blood Play
7 Serial X

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Monday, August 4, 2003

Review: Terminator - Sanctuary Of Fear (2002)

Sanctuary Of Fear

Almost from the moment I put this album into my CD player I was simply amazed. Besides being a devoted fan of dark Goth metal, my veins flow with the sounds of '80s metal legends such as Dokken, Iron Maiden, and AC/DC. Terminator  was born out of an inspiration fostered by the famed Rock In Rio festival and so the sound of the '80s is at the core of their debut album Sanctuary Of Fear. Unlike some new bands like Wycked Synn who strictly adhere to their influences, Terminator merges modern metal and power metal elements with the tried-and-true '80s formula to create a fresh and original album.

Sanctuary Of Fear begins with an intro that would certainly be more at home on a pure power metal album, but Aldo Guilherme's well-executed licks and driving riffs on the title track immediately call to mind '80s guitar heroes such as George Lynch and Eddie Van Halen. Érich Martins, who sounds like a cross between Layne Staley of Alice In Chains and Don Dokken himself, belts out the lyrics with conviction. This is true not only on the title track, but continues on throughout the album and is a cornerstone of Terminator's style. That being said, the foundation of the band is built on the the rock-solid rhythms created by drummer Márcio Cruvinel's complex beats and André Montanini's intricate bass lines. The two timekeepers drive "Just Leave Me Alone" with a modern metal groove while Aldo's leads float across the surface, tying everything together in a tight package. My favorite track on Sanctuary Of Fear is "Supernatural Tale", a steamrolling tune with a touch of keyboard atmosphere resulting in a sound similar to Whitesnake and Dokken. Once again Aldo's memorable riffs and soaring leads permeate the song while Érich pours his soul into telling the tale. All of the elements that mark the uniqueness of Terminator come together perfectly on this track, making it the highlight of the album. "Target" also stands out for its chugging riffs and tight hooks, off-time beats and, once again, Érich's sharp vocals. Another kick-ass rocker is "Razor On Fire", with its fuzzy riffs, dancing keys, and Érich sounding very much like Don Dokken. Although I've written about a handful of songs specifically, there isn't one track on the album that doesn't deserve mention.

The sound presented by Terminator on Sanctuary Of Fear is everything their promo package claims - original, fresh, and melodic. The best aspects of the '80s icons have been harvested and joined with a style much in sync with today's metal trends, keeping Terminator sounding unique yet comfortably familiar.

Track Listing
1 Intro
2 Sanctuary Of Fear
3 Just Leave Me Alone
4 Black Hole
5 Supernatural Tale
6 Seduction
7 Target
8 Millenium Calls
9 Scars Of The Tempest
10 When I First Died
11 Razor On Fire
12 Seas Of Greed

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