Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Review: Exhibit F - Blue In The Background (2003)

Exhibit F
Blue In The Background

Exhibit F is a San Diego four-piece that combines a bit of metal influence with a blend of angry prog-rock to create what they describe as a "rare alchemy of heavy sound". Sounding at times like L7, Veruca Salt, and even Heart, the band certainly carves out a niche all their own with plenty of heady experimentation.

Blue In The Background is Exhibit F's debut full-length, and as such serves to showcase the band's wealth of talent while at the same time underscoring a couple of opportunities for improvement. Always wanting to focus on the positives, I have to start out with my favorite track on the album - "Heir". Everything gels on this song, resulting in what could certainly be a radio favorite even on the commercial conglomerates. The opening riff of Chris Lawrence is catchy and upbeat. Singer Melle delivers a strong performance that brings Pat Benatar to mind. The song is simple and infectious, though quite short. In fact, five of the tracks on the album clock in at well under the three-minute mark. Elsewhere on the disc, there are flashes of brilliance that indicate the serious potential lurking just below the surface. The strong riffs on "Sliding", Melle's mesmerizing vocals and Jeremy Turner's groovy bass on "Beauty", and again the heavy riff on "Slip Away" are just but a few examples. Just as evident, however, is the looseness of the songwriting. In several cases, the frequent time changes of drummer John Duffy and the meandering paths of the other musicians leads to a feeling of an open jam session which serves only to break up the flow of the song. Maturation as songwriters will certainly overcome this obstacle, and with the talent the four-some possesess it's only a matter of time before they tighten things up on a more consistent basis.

Without question, Blue In The Background is a solid debut for these Californians and is certainly of interest to any fan of "art" rock or prog rock that has a tough, and at times dark, edge to it.

Track Listing
7Back To Me
10Slip Away
11Ugly & Unsincere

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Thursday, November 13, 2003

Review: Tarot - Suffer Our Pleasures (2003)

Tarot [ Website | MySpace | Facebook | Twitter ]
Suffer Our Pleasures

Veteran metallers Tarot  have been delivering fine albums since 1986, albeit with several extended breaks over the years. Founded by vocalist and bass player Marco Hietala and his brother, guitarist Zachary Hietala, in 1986, the band's style of melodic metal has evolved over the years from a classic Iron Maiden-influenced sound to the dark, aggressive power metal displayed on Suffer Our Pleasures. Although Marco has spent time with fellow Finnish power metallers Nightwish and Sinergy, Tarot incorporates very few of the frilly, happy neo-classical elements so often found in European power metal.

The overall mood of Suffer Our Pleasures is one of sinister aggression, created mostly by the raw growling voice of Marco and the ultra-heavy riffs of brother Zachary. Marco's most aggressive vocals come on the album opener "I Rule". He conveys the lyrics with throat-shredding intensity while Zachary churns out the riffs. Marco's cough following his final blistering shriek is a humorous touch. The progressive elements of Tarot make an appearance in the way of a meandering organ solo that is, thankfully, brief. For the most part, the keyboards of Janne Tolsa are used primarily to set an atmosphere and tend to blend well with the compositions. The first track marks a slight departure to this, as does the flamboyant organ solo on "From The Shadows". "Rider Of The Last Day" shows Tarot at their darkly progressive best. A slow-burner of a song with varied synths, frequent time changes, and an occasional psychedelic moment, Marco holds it all together with his most powerful vocal performance on the album. Heartfelt and compelling, he delivers the lyrics in convincing fashion. Despite being the shortest track on the disc at just barely over 4 minutes, my personal favorite track on Suffer Our Pleasures is "Unborn Son". Beginning with a heavy bass strum from Marco along with ethereal and slightly eerie keyboards, I feel the chorus is the most memorable of the album. Marco's bass lines are quite prominent and Zachary contributes a quality solo.

For the most part, the songs on Suffer Our Pleasures don't tend to stand out on their own. This is not to say that the album is full of fluff, however. Each track is a testament to the exceptional quality of musicianship possessed by the members of Tarot and there certainly are enough innovative elements to keep things interesting - but just short of remarkable. I would recommend this album to fans of bands such as Angel Dust and Iced Earth.

Track Listing
1 I Rule
2 Pyre Of Gods
3 Rider Of The Last Day
4 Follow The Blind
5 Undead Son
6 Of Time And Dust
7 From The Void
8 Convulsions
9 From The Shadows
10 Painless

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Thursday, November 6, 2003

Review: Lechery - demo (2003)

Lechery [ Website | MySpace ]

Lechery  - meaning "excessive indulgence in sexual activity" (so sayeth The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language). What an outstanding choice for the name of a heavy metal band, in my opinion anyway. Of course, with that definition you probably assume the music of such a band to be in the Glam/Sleaze metal genre somewhere between Poison and Quiet Riot. How about if I told that frontman Martin Bengtsson was once the bass player for Swedish deathsters Arch Enemy and Armageddon? Assumptions are not good things to rely on, especially in the world of music. Lechery is, in fact, a melodic metal band that displays substantial promise on their first demo recording.

While comprised of only 4 songs, the band is able to convey an excellent sense of songwriting with intricate hooks and effective use of guitar harmonies, catchy choruses, and keyboard atmosphere. The influence of bands such as Dokken and Judas Priest is clearly evident, though Lechery is by no means lacking in originality. Quite the opposite, in fact. Martin's clean vocals are clear and polished, and at times he faintly reminds me of Chuck Billy and other mid-'80s metal vocalists.

While I thoroughly enjoy all of the songs on the demo, "Open Your Eyes" stands out as one of my favorites. A mid-tempo rocker that opens with a memorable riff subtly underscored by the keys of Fredrik Nordstrandh (who is also the lead guitarist), the voice of Martin here reminds me most of the '80s era of metal. The outstanding guitar harmonies of Martin and Fredrik are punctuated by the prominent bass of Marcus Eriksson and the clever skinwork of Robert Persson - who is also involved with the Swedish true metal outfit Dragonthrone. An infectious chorus completes the equation, making this perhaps the best song on the disc. The final track, "I Am The One", also stands out for its distinctiveness. The keyboard intro breaks away to an awesome riff to which you find yourself instinctively headbanging. The keys are most conspicuous on this track, but they do much to enhance the composition and do not detract at all. There are a couple of excellent guitar leads as well, rounding out this fine demo.

If this first glimpse of Lechery is any indication of what is yet to come on their debut full-length, they are certainly poised for success. Fans of melodic metal be sure to keep an eye out for these guys.

Track Listing
1 Why?
2 Open Your Eyes
3 The Cynical
4 I Am The One