Thursday, April 29, 2004

Review: Asskicker - The Barley and Yeast Brain Glaze (2001)

The Barley and Yeast Brain Glaze

A few years ago I moved from the cramped life of crumbling suburbia to a much more rural, small town setting. One of the first things I did after settling in was visit the local record shop and see what was on the table in terms of local talent. Asking the guy behind the counter which local band he considered to be the "heaviest", I was directed to a CD bearing cover art that for me evoked some of the "underground" thrash classics of the '80s. You know, the kind of artwork the bass player drew during algebra class. Anyway, I eagerly popped Asskicker's The Barley and Yeast Brain Glaze  into my CD player for the ride home, determined to hear just what people out in "the country" considered to be heavy. The "Holy Shit!" exclamation escaped my lips almost immediately as my ears were subjected to a rhythmic barrage of pummeling bass, forceful riffs, and tortured shrieks.

Asskicker is a four-piece from small town Michigan that draws heavily on influences such as Children of Bodom and Pantera. They combine well-crafted, thrashy riffs with throaty black/death vox to deliver a genre-crossing album that is as brutal as it is complex. What stands out most are the extraordinary riffs found scattered among the 11 songs that comprise The Barley and Yeast Brain Glaze. Proving their talent for consistently composing intense riffs, the band ties them all together with frequent time changes and varying beat patterns. The musicianship is first-rate, with guitarist Ryan Mazur excelling whether he's churning out a murderous riff or launching into a frenzied solo. Derek Mitea is simply amazing behind the kit. His seamless rhythm transitions and furious beats are outstanding. The bass lines from Mike Gay aren't flashy, but he keeps the band tight and adds a ton of bricks to Mazur's riffs. Frank Lazorishchak has a shredded voice that hovers in the upper ranges but doesn't quite fully reach a blackish shriek. Lending the extreme element to Asskicker's straightforward thrash, Frank belts out the gore-inspired lyrics with no lack of conviction.

The first track on the album, "Razor Pussy", is short but harsh, setting the stage for the onslaught brought by the rest of the album. The song sounds a bit like Mudvayne's "Dig", bringing to bear nu-metal stop-start riffing, pounding double-bass, and frantically snarled lyrics. The Pantera influences are most clear on "Lidless Eyes" with the bottom-tuned riffs and distorted leads. From here on out, most songs are predominantly traditional thrash with crunchy riffs and exquisite solos. Multiple time changes are the order of the day, with differing riffs and beat patterns resulting in a virtual cornucopia of metal rage. The highlight of the album comes toward the end with "Grove Of The Flesh Trees". Derek simply goes nuts on the drums while the riffs are groovy and the absolute heaviest on the album. A doomy passage serves as the backdrop for one of Ryan's most explosive solos before the song churns to a close.

Even with all of the positives The Barley and Yeast Brain Glaze has going for it, there are still a couple of things that bring the album down a bit. While the riffs are biting and catchy, the many change-ups tend to dilute the staying power of the songs. Scaling back some of the intricacies would boost the effect of the hooks, so this is simply a case of the band trying to do too much. The vocals are the second element that bothers me about Asskicker's music. They're taking a page from such bands as Children Of Bodom by combining traditional metal with harsh vocals, and while that in and of itself isn't a bad thing Frank simply doesn't deliver the kind of performance needed to pull it off well. The end result is a sound where the vocals don't quite fit the music. Those suggested improvements aside, the band is heavy; they are loud; they do what their name claims - kick ass.

Track Listing
1 Razor Pussy
2 Lidless Eyes
3 See You In Pain
4 Boneyard Diggin
5 Welding Skin
6 Victim
7 Alcoholics Against Sobriety
8 Pigs Blood Blues
9 Grove of the Flesh Trees
10 Slave Grinder
11 The Stoves of Insanity

Purchase The Barley and Yeast Brain Glaze from these fine e-Tailers:


Sunday, April 25, 2004

Review: Brides of Destruction - Here Come The Brides (2004)

Brides of Destruction [ MySpace ]
Here Come The Brides
Sanctuary Records

The rampant reunification and resurrection of bands who spent their heyday in the latter half of the '80s that has occurred over the past few years has resulted in a mixed bag of success. Some attempted to hold true to the sound that won them fame back in the day, while others grasped at the latest "metal trends" in an effort to attract new fans. A precious few selected the best from both eras and managed to create a sound familiar to old fans yet fresh enough to gather new ones. Two bands that have journeyed down the road from '80s fame to 21st-century revival are Mötley Crüe and L.A. Guns, the founders of which have united in an effort to return a little bit of the '80s hair metal style into today's modern rock. Nikki Sixx, founder and main songwriter of Mötley Crüe, and Tracii Guns, founder and guitarist of L.A. Guns, picked up two relatively unknowns to the music scene in London LeGrand (vocals) and Scot Coogan (drums) to launch a project aimed at playing rock they way it was meant to be played. The band's debut album Here Come The Brides should not be dismissed as a hunk of retro metal, for it is much more than that. Brides of Destruction skillfully blend the punky attitude and sleazy style of the '80s L.A. rock scene with modern verve.

As he did with Mötley Crüe, Nikki Sixx assumes the role of main songwriter for Brides of Destruction and the album benefits for it. A bevy of punchy riffs, sophisticated bass lines, and memorable choruses is the foundation for Here Come The Brides, on top of which the skillfully crafted lyrics are delivered by newcomer London LeGrand. While not possessing a versatile voice, LeGrand does have a gritty drawl that enhances the trash factor yet can still infuse emotion when needed. From his Chris Robinson-like swagger on "Natural Born Killers" to his heartfelt delivery on "Life", LeGrand fits the music well. Belting out some wild licks and elaborate solos, guitar veteran Tracii Guns is in top form. While his band L.A. Guns never reached elite status in the world of '80s metal, Guns has soldiered on over the years while continuing to dish out the riffs like a pro. Here Come The Brides is a solid addition to his resume.

The album is, overall, a good hard rock listen. The opener, "Shut The Fuck Up", sets the mood right away with a driving riff that is as familiar as it is beefy. LeGrand is in your face with raw, studio-enhanced shouts while the band backs him up with a catchy chorus. Tracii doesn't hesitate to get right down to business with first-rate solo and Scot proves he can keep up behind the kit. The next track, "I Don't Care", opens with a riff straight from 1987 and proceeds to turn up the heat as it rolls on to be what I consider the most rockin' tune on the disk. It has a groove that gets your head moving and your fist pumping. Another highlight is "Natural Born Killers", a sleazy mix between Aerosmith and The Black Crowes. Perhaps sounding the least "updated" on Here Come The Brides, the song is full of the cock rock strut that permeated the airwaves as the '80s faded into the '90s just prior to the grunge movement.

Power ballads were pretty much obligatory back in the day, so it comes as no surprise that Here Come The Brides contains two. After all, Nikki and Tracii have penned some of the most memorable power ballads to come out of the hair metal generation. "Life" is a straightforward, uplifting little rocker that simply makes you feel good. And isn't that what music is all about? Some may dismiss "Life" as little more than cliché, but every so often you need a simple song whose only purpose is to make you feel good - that everything is gonna be all right. Rounding out the album is "Only Get So Far", a song Nikki reportedly wrote for Tim McGraw. Not as "moving" as "Life", it's nonetheless one of the several bright spots on the disc.

At the end of the day, Here Come The Brides isn't a groundbreaking album heralding the triumphant return of '80s hair metal. What it is, however, is a very good collection of guitar-driven rock songs that would not be out of place on today's radio alongside bands such as Puddle Of Mudd, Blink 182, and the like. If you're a fan of good, straightforward rock then Brides of Destruction is a band that will give you plenty of what you're looking for.

Track Listing
1 Shut The Fuck Up
2 I Don't Care
3 I Got A Gun
4 2x Dead
5 Brace Yourself
6 Natural Born Killers
7 Life
8 Revolution
9 Only Get So Far
Total Runtime

Purchase Here Come The Brides at these fine e-Tailers:


Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Review: Fead - Nameless (2003)


Fead is a young three-piece hailing from the eastern shores of Lake Michigan. Their debut EP Nameless has been generating a buzz among those in the nu-metal circles, who praise the band's catchy melodies and hardcore attitude. I think this album contains a bit more than just the run-of-the-mill nu-metal formula, though. The hardcore is certainly there, particularly in the vocal style of Dexter Brown, but I hear a hint of old-school thrashiness as well. There's little room to doubt that these guys are striving to embrace the corporate definition of metal, however.

The impression I'm left with after spinning this disc several times is that I know they could have done better, nu-metal tendencies notwithstanding. The songs sound very loose, and at times seem as if they've lost direction. For the most part, the riffs and melodies are what you'd expect from just about every "metal" band on the radio today but there seems to be a tentativeness about their execution. Yet there are notable exceptions to my perception. The main riff from Brown (who is also the guitarist) on "Jailswine" is prominent, confident, and memorable. Drummer Brian Cole steps it up a notch on this track too, delivering some impressive beats. Another bright spot for Fead is the title track. Some have commented on the band having a sound comparable to Korn, which I can hear pretty clearly on this track. However, I can also hear some good ol' Bay Area influences in the riffs.

One of the things that hurts this EP the most is the production. The drums sound awfully muddy, which is something that tends to really get under my skin. A little more time spent fine tuning would have worked wonders here. On the positive side of the fence, Fead displays moments of solid musicianship and songwriting which can easily be tapped into and exploited to create a more robust album, given they take the time to polish and tighten things up a bit.

Track Listing
1Deemed Impossible
2Lead On
4The Grip

Search eBay for Nameless:

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Review: Finntroll - Nattfödd (2004)

Finntroll [ Website | MySpace | Facebook | Twitter ]
Spikefarm Records

I've been aware of the Finnish band Finntroll for a couple of years now, knowing them to be a Black Metal band that incorporated folk elements into their sound. Not being a fan of the extreme, raspy vocals associated with this particular style of metal I chose not to investigate further. Big mistake! While the vocals do fit the common vein, the band's use of Scandinavian folk melodies as an integral component of their songwriting means Finntroll has a lot more to offer than your everyday Norsemen in corpse paint.

To say that Finntroll is a "Black Metal" band would be a misclassification, however. While the vocals, blast-beats, and furious riffs are at the core of their sound they steer clear from the Satanic lyrical content and imagery, instead focusing on the trolls of Scandinavian folklore. A more proper way to describe their music would be to say that it is "brutal folk metal", slightly similar to Waylander. There has been a steady increase in the number of metal bands embracing folk and medieval melodies and traditional instruments, yet Finntroll separates themselves from this growing pack with their unique selection of folk music and instrumentation - humpaa. Humpaa is a Finnish form of Polka music, so you'll find significant contributions from such instruments as the accordion, klezmer, flute, and even a jaw harp. At first glance, even the most open-minded metalhead would shake his head in disgust at the thought of metal being blended with Polka, but Finntroll's formula works! The secret rests in their knack for creating catchy melodies that work to compliment and enhance what would normally be a rather one-dimensional aural assault.

Nattfödd is the fourth full-length album from the band (they also released an EP just prior to this album) since their debut in 2000. The first real immersion into the sound of Finntroll comes on the second track. The opening track being pretty straight-forward Black Metal, "Eliytres" dives right in with the klezmer, a traditional melody, and epic keyboard passages from Henri "Trollhorn" Sorvali. Though Tapio Wilska replaced "Katia" Jamsen on vocals for the EP and Nattfödd, he remains true to the vocalizations of the band's previous recordings. Delivering the lyrics, all of which are sung in Swedish, primarily in a mid-ranged blackish rasp, Tapio occasionally adds a bit more depth by lowering his pitch to a more deathish style. Another addition to the lineup is guitarist Mikael "Routa" Karlbom, replacing Teemu "Somnium" Raimoranat who perished last year in a tragic fall. Routa provides excellent lead guitarwork throughout the album, though soloing is non-existent. The heavy, crunching riffs of "Fiskarens Fiende" highlight Routa's skill, as well as that of rhythm guitarist Samuli "Skrymer" Ponsimaa, and the guitar interplay with the keys of Trollhorn contribute much to making this song my favorite of the disc. The beer-hall choruses add variety and an extra dimension to the vocals, giving the song more character and standout quality. A close runner-up as my favorite of Nattfödd, "Trollhammaren" has a strong traditional melody which sounds more than a bit Celtic and prominent bass lines from Sami "Tundra" Uusitalo. Flutes make an appearance here, and the cleanly shouted choruses are back. Tapio even cleans up the vocals for an occasional shout while singing the verses in a deeper, deathish way. The keyboards of classically trained Trollhorn figure significantly on this track, even opening up into a solo of sorts. More restrained than the keyboard wankery of bands such as Rhapsody, Trollhorn still manages to give this track a bit of a Euro Power Metal feel with his skill. Routa gets as close to a solo as anywhere else on the album with a few bridled licks. Finntroll liberally sprinkles sound effects all through the album, more so on the first track but again on "Marknadsvisan". Opening with a serene woodland soundscape complete with birds, a horse, and a gurgling brook, we're introduced to what I assume is a troll lord laboring away in his cave in an attempt to forge gods know what. Well, something goes awry and the peaceful forest is shattered by an angered, fearsome roar from the troll. I have to say, the entire sequence bears a striking similarity to the sounds coming from my garage as I strive to start my lawnmower. Anyway, the most ferocious metal attack of the album follows the troll's bellow as Samu "Beast Dominator" Ruotsalainen blasts away with the double-bass. The jaw harp makes a return to prominence to begin "Grottans Barn", giving this mid-paced crusher an Old West feel before the guitars and bass jump in to lay down some heavy riffs. Tapio sings in a nearly clean voice, enunciating the lyrics distinctly. On the choruses he returns to his blackish rasp, however. Although I enjoyed the album, if I could suggest one thing to improve the accessibility of Finntroll's music it would be a greater emphasis on the vocals as delivered on this track. Wrapping things up is "Routas Vaggvisa", an introspective acoustic piece from Routa accentuated by intermittent hoots from an owl. My partiality for the raptor aside, this composition is a classy way to end the album.

The brutal folk metal of Finntroll is a unique blend of extreme and traditional elements that sets this band apart from their peers. Reading about their sound is not enough to understand it, you must experience the music to appreciate the band's outstanding ability to create memorable melodies and one-of-a-kind passages. Folk metal fans should give them a try, as should open-minded fans of more extreme forms of metal. I wish I'd tuned in to these Finns a couple of years ago, but I will now definitely be investigating their back catalog.

Track Listing
1Vindfärd / Människopesten
3Fiskarens Fiende
8Det Iskalla Trollblod
9Grottans Barn
10Routas Vaggvisa

Purchase Nattfödd from these fine e-Tailers:


Saturday, April 10, 2004

Review: Supervillain - Supervillain (2003)

Supervillain [ MySpace ]

Supervillain  is a band out of New York City comprised of several members well-traveled in the NYC hardcore scene. Not a fan of that particular style of music? Then, contrary to first impressions, Supervillain is just the band for you. These guys serve up some straight-up metal influenced by bands such as Soundgarden, Kyuss, and Monster Magnet.

The later band, Monster Magnet, probably serves as the best reference point for this self-titled EP which abounds with fuzzy guitars and distortion, heavy bass grooves, and first-rate drumwork. Determined to resurrect the heavy music which shaped the early days of metal, yet is infused with a modern sense of aggression, Supervillain has managed to create a sound which delivers as promised. While the musicianship is top-notch, the prize here is singer Morgan Adams. Sounding much like Jesse James Dupree from Jackyl, his gritty tenor enlivens the mid-paced songs and adds that something extra that makes you sit up and take notice.

With only five songs on the album, I still found it difficult to choose a favorite. The final track, "Aggrophobic", is probably Supervillain at their best. Excellent, catchy guitar leads follow a raucous drum intro from Louie Gasparro. A certain sense of funkiness is generated by the bass lines laid down by Jay Nicholas and Morgan delivers his rawest performance of the disc - complete with a nod to Brian Johnson of AC/DC. I can hear a potential radio hit with this track. The strumming bass that opens "One Hundred Lives" leads to driving riffs and a catchy chorus from Morgan. If that wasn't enough to qualify this as a standout track, Louie proves his skill behind the kit with some colorful drum work. Morgan occasionally drops his range a bit on "Paradise Lust" as the band injects a bit of an Industrial guitar sound to the song.

While adhering to the roots of their core sound, Supervillain's music is far from sounding dated. These guys have come up with an album that, while contrary to what the major labels have been feeding us as "metal", is bound to catch on and turn some heads. The band is currently at work recording their debut full-length.

Track Listing
1 Wartorn
2 One Hudnred Lives
3 Paradise Lust
4 Lyin Eyes
5 Aggrophobic

Search eBay for Supervillain: