Friday, May 28, 2004

Review: Sinocence - Acceptable Level of Violence (2004)

Sinocence [ Website | MySpace | Facebook | Twitter ]
Acceptable Level of Violence
(2004)
self-released

Hailing from Belfast in Northern Ireland, Sinocence is a young modern thrash band who've already churned out three demos in their short history, Acceptable Level Of Violence being their latest. A quality effort that highlights the band's talent and their knack for composing and executing interesting songs, the 5 tracks on Acceptable Level Of Violence show the band capable of a multi-tiered approach to their style of metal.

The first track, "Makin A Monster", is pretty unambiguous metal incorporating elements of late Bay Area thrash. Frontman Moro sings in a gravelly voice well-suited to the music, as it mixes easily with the aggressive riffs and thundering bass. What struck me as noteworthy about this first song is the multi-layered vocals during the chorus, which has become something of a lost art in today's metal. Subtleties such as this permeate Acceptable Level Of Violence, hinting at the potential Sinocence has to break out and become something big. My favorite track on the album is "Six Second Stare", with it's dual-guitar attack and big classic metal sound. Moro and Anto team up for some beefy riffs, accentuated by Anto's meaningful leads and Caxxx's conspicuous bass.

It's at this point that the band switches gears and pursues a more modern thrash direction, incorporating many aspects from the '90s and current metal scenes. Obtrusive bass, down-tuned riffs, and vocals with distinct emotional range are to be found in abundance on the three remaining tracks. Interestingly enough, it's in this environment that Anto really lets loose with extensive soloing. None of that virtuoso wankery, just soulful guitar playing that fits well with the overall song structures. The highlight of this group of songs would have to be "Inside", with its distinct Soundgarden texture. While the influence is obvious, be it intentional or purely coincidence, the song still stands on its own merits. Moro proves yet again that he's the real deal behind the microphone. Not bothering to concern himself with vocal acrobatics, he just gets down to business and relays his message in a raw, gritty style that is unequivocally his own.

Acceptable Level Of Violence won't take the world by storm, but as a vehicle designed to draw attention to a young metal band with the skill, talent, and balls to eventually make a mark on the scene this demo does its job. At the time of this review, the band is in the process of writing material for their fourth demo and is tearing up the gig scene in their home country and England. Stop by their website, lay out a few bucks for their demo, and help these guys get the attention they deserve.


Track Listing
1 Makin A Monster 4:27
2 Six Second Stare 5:01
3 Anything For The Next Escape 5:20
4 Inside 4:10
5 Shedding Skin 5:29



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Saturday, May 22, 2004

Review: Tiamat - Prey (2003)

Tiamat [ Website | MySpace ]
Prey
(2003)

Since the 1994 release of their groundbreaking album Wildhoney, Tiamat  has been counted among those at the forefront of the Gothic metal genre. The problem that arises after a band has released a genre-defining album like Wildhoney is the immense pressure placed upon them, most often by fans and critics, to continue producing album after album at the same level of innovation. Rarely can a band achieve such a lofty goal, with many succumbing to the pressure and fading into memory. While Tiamat has not again reached the pinnacle that is Wildhoney, they've consistently delivered magical Gothic metal albums that have the power to wash over you and envelope you in emotion. Unlike recent genre leaders like Entwine, To/Die/For, and Beseech whose style of Goth metal/rock tends to be up-tempo and poppish, Tiamat  works in the realm of true sorrow and melancholy. Slow-paced, but not dirge-like, the majority of the band's compositions impart a deep sadness - but comfortingly so. They provide a soundtrack for saddened souls looking to wrap themselves in music, to feel their cares lifted as they connect on a deep level with the emotions flowing from the speakers.

And so it is with Prey, Tiamat's 8th studio album. The band's two previous albums, Skeleton Skeletron and Judas Christ, tended to be more like those bands mentioned above in their slightly upbeat, somewhat poppy tunes. Prey signals a minor shift in direction for Tiamat, as mainman Johan Edlund continues to incorporate memorable choruses and hooks but increases the somber quality of his songs. While always having been influenced by Pink Floyd in his songwriting (which shows most clearly on this album in the form of "The Pentagram", the lyrics of which were written by Aleister Crowley), elements of Depeche Mode and The Cure are also significant on this disc. As on previous albums, Edlund sings in a smooth baritone similar to Pete Steele and Erik Molarin. Keyboards again factor substantially in setting the mood and atmosphere, but never rise to the point of becoming a distraction. The riffs are deep, dark and crunching as is to be expected in the Gothic genre, and work intimately with the other instrumentation to create an album that is as much about feeling as it is about listening.

As the disc begins we are presented with birdsong, much in the same way that Wildhoney opened. But there the comparison ends, as the doleful riffs of "Cain" sound out. Combined with the sorrowful sound of an occasional church bell and the longing voice of Edlund, "Cain" is an excellent track to have been chosen to represent Prey as the first single released. Following the first song is "Ten Thousand Tentacles", one of three short instrumental tracks on the album. Essentially soundscape extensions of the songs adjacent to them, the three tracks ("Ten Thousand Tentacles", "Triple Cross", and "The Garden Of Heathen") don't stand on their own and are not designed to, yet they work well to enhance the emotional impact of their parent songs. "Love In Chains" is the next standout track for me. A song of love yet to be realized, it is one of the more upbeat tunes on Prey and feels akin to the songs on Tiamat's previous two albums. The simplistic riffs are catchy, as always, and the keyboards make a larger contribution to the song in the form of overall atmosphere and the occasional hook. The song also contains one of the rare guitar solos to be found on the album. Moderately distorted, the solos are brief and integrate well into songs that normally don't tolerate such elements very well - yet another example of Edlund's masterful understanding of song craft. Turning up the pace another notch is "Light In Extension". The chugging riffs provide the momentum as the keys float just below the surface, tying together the rhythm with Johan's filtered vocals - giving everything a bit of The Cure feel. Not just a standout track, but one of my favorites of the album is "Clovenhoof". The keyboard melodies give it an X-Files ambiance (similar to the show's theme song) and the chorus is memorable and infectious. The guitar leads are crisp and haunting as they blend together with the other instrumentation, and Edlund's voice, to create one of the most magical songs of Prey. My absolute favorite track is "Carry Your Cross And I'll Carry Mine". Similar to the majority of the album in tempo and emotion, what sets this song apart is the lead vocals - not performed by Johan, but by an uncredited female friend of his. Her thin, wispy voice is a perfect fit with the dark riffs and sorrowful piano and would be a significant enhancement to the core sound of Tiamat were she incorporated more often. She does appear with Edlund in a supporting role on "Divided", but I would like to see her involved in a more substantial way. As Lotta Hoglin helps define the success of Beseech, so could this unknown woman contribute to Tiamat's somber style.

Prey proves yet again that Tiamat, and Johan in particular, are experts in the field of Gothic metal. Drifting away from the upbeat, almost saccharine Goth rock recently released by bands such as Evanescence, Lullacry, and To/Die/For, Tiamat has delivered an album that is both melancholic and comforting - accessible to all fans of the darker side of music.





Track Listing
1 Cain 5:25
2 Ten Thousand Tentacles 1:34
3 Wings Of Heaven 4:31
4 Love In Chains 4:24
5 Divided 5:18
6 Carry Your Cross And I'll Carry Mine 4:37
7 Triple Cross 1:21
8 Light In Extension 4:47
9 Prey 3:32
10 The Garden Of Heathen 1:25
11 Clovenhoof 4:55
12 Nihil 6:10
13 The Pentagram 7:21



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Sunday, May 16, 2004

Review: Soulkeep - Chant of the Vipers (2002)

Soulkeep
Chant of the Vipers
(2002)
self-released

Soulkeep is a young band from Madison, WI that delivers a substantial punch in the form of traditionally inspired modern thrash. Citing influences like Black Sabbath and Megadeth, the band incorporates plenty of classic metal riffs and leads into their debut EP Chant Of The Vipers. They also embrace many of the modern thrash elements perfected by bands such as Nevermore and Shadows Fall, keeping their sound fresh.

The two tracks that stand out above the rest on Chant Of The Vipers are "Forevermore" and "Rage". The opening riffs of "Forevermore" are pure classic thrash, backed up by singer Dean Gehrmann sounding a bit like Dave Mustaine. Rob Parkinson belts out fiery licks along with the driving riffs and delivers a mighty fine solo. Toby Hull thunders behind the kit while the bass of Matt Nagel is just right in the mix. "Rage" mixes in a few sound bites from the film The Prophecy among the heaviest riffs on the disc. Gehrmann again sounds a bit like Mustaine, but spews the choruses in a raw snarl that befits the title of the song. The leads from Parkinson are outstanding in their complexity.

Being that this is Soulkeep's first recording, it's not surprising to find the band to be a bit loose. They experiment with melody and frequent time changes, and with a bit more work in the studio I'm sure they'll discover what fits best for them. The musicians have the talent, Gehrmann has the vocal ability, and they all have the passion to succeed. Chant Of The Vipers is just the first step on what I'm sure will be an accomplished journey.


Track Listing
1 Forevermore 4:57
2 Script Of A Thousand Lies 6:25
3 Rage 4:22
4 Ex Obliveone 7:20
5 Abandoned 5:44



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Thursday, May 13, 2004

Review: Entwine - DiEversity (2004)

Entwine [ Website | MySpace | Facebook | Twitter ]
DiEversity
(2004)
Spikefarm Records

Blending catchy melodies with thick, punchy riffs, Finns Entwine have risen to be counted among the leaders of Goth metal in their home country and are steadily moving up in the ranks worldwide. DiEversity is the band's fourth studio album and essentially carries on where their previous album left off. If, like me, you're not familiar with any of Entwine's earlier work, their sound can be compared to that of fellow Finns Poisonblack, H.I.M., and recent Sentenced. The songs on DiEversity offer up a bit more commercial appeal than the aforementioned bands, and at first I was dismayed by the clear aim at mainstream popularity. After a short time, however, DiEversity grew on me and I now consider it to be one of the best Goth rock albums released in the past couple of years (right up there with TON's October Rust, Beseech's Souls Highway, and Amorphis' Tuonela).

After a very short intro, the first single from the album - "Bittersweet" - kicks in. There can be no doubt that this song was crafted specifically for the radio. Clocking in at just over two and a half minutes, the tune has the deep bass & guitar riffs that are so popular among modern rock artists. The keys of Riita Heikkonen, however, serve to add a dark atmosphere and set Entwine apart from the many radio clones. Mika Tauriainen's voice is clear and powerful, always having just a hint of sorrow and regret. Shying away from the whining commonly heard among mainstream acts, Mika tends to sound a bit more like Juha-Pekka Leppäloutu from Charon and Pasi Koskinen from Amorphis.

The guitar sound from Tom Mikkola and Jaani Kähköon is primarily held to meaty riffs that enhance the infectious quality of each song on the album. Tom belts out a quality solo on a couple of occasions, but for the most part the six-stringers are reserved. Despite this, the wall of sound delivered by Entwine is guitar heavy and washes over you completely, enveloping you in the mood of the music. Grounding the heavy riffs is the rock-solid rhythm section of bass player Joni Miettinen and drummer Aksu Hanttu. Aksu's beats are never complex, but Joni's bass lines tend to be intricate when not adding punch to the riffs.

Besides the two balladic tunes ("Bleeding For The Cure" and "Everything For You"), every song on DiEversity is top-notch Goth rock. Having to narrow the field for this review, my favorite of the bunch is "Still Remains". The song begins with a somewhat Euro power metal keyboard intro giving way to the heaviest riffs on the album. Uptempo and heavy on the bass, "Still Remains" has a catchy chorus and highly atmospheric keys - the two common ingredients found throughout the album. Turning up the pace a bit just makes this track more appealing to me than the others.

With the recent success of Evanescence, it seems to me that modern rock radio is ready to embrace an album like DiEversity. If you're a fan of this type of melodic, atmospheric Goth rock/metal then Entwine is a band you should not miss.





Track Listing
1 2|4|943 0:04
2 Bitter Sweet 2:40
3 Someone To Blame 3:11
4 Bleeding For The Cure 3:12
5 Still Remains 3:53
6 Frozen By The Sun 3:13
7 Six Feet Down Below 3:43
8 Refill My Soul 4:22
9 Everything For You 6:05
10 Nothing's Forver 4:11
11 Lost Within 8:23



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