Friday, November 25, 2005

Review: Slavelab - Turning Circles (2005)

Slavelab [ MySpace ]
Turning Circles

Home to Beck's beer, the northern German industrial city of Bremen has unleashed a new export in the form of Slavelab. Though founded in 1998 by guitarist Remo Süss and singer Peter Stohlmann, the band's first recording wasn't released until this year. Mixing a traditional metal core with elements of thrash, Turning Circles offers something to metal fans who enjoy their music loud and aggressive without forsaking melody.

The album hooked me right away with the intro. Instead of the flowery keyboard intros one normally finds leading off metal albums of all genres, Slavelab instead keeps it simple by laying down a threatening guitar lead atop a menacing riff. The intro also serves to foreshadow the capable guitar work of Remo and Jimmy Patterson, which overflows from each track on the album. One of my favorite songs on the album, the title track features an extended solo from Remo as well as an abundance of classic riffs. Of particular interest to me is the bass playing of Moritz Kölling, which thanks to the solid production is clear and distinct. His lines are complex and add just the right amount of groove and character to the songs, at some points being featured and at others barely discernible - but always an integral part of the mix.

The voice of Peter Stohlmann is perfectly suited to the type of thrashy metal Slavelab plays. He stays squarely in mid-range, but has a bit of roughness that enhances the emotional value of his style. The one point where he departs from his standard is the track "By My Side". While the rest of the album burns at a fairly raucous pace, this track is a flashback to the power ballads of the '80s. Peter drops his voice a little and, with his accent, actually comes off sounding slightly like Ozzy - though he occasionally goes overboard with his vibrato. Even so, that, coupled with the superb axework from Remo, results in this track being much more than just a change of pace and makes it one of the highlights of the album. While I've made much of the strummers in Slavelab, credit is certainly owed to drummer Christian Mastulla for keeping perfect time whether the beats are straightforward, as on "Maniac", or pummeling and intricate as on the appropriately named "Bludgeon".

Though Patterson has been replaced by Lukas Nowak as the band's second guitarist, Slavelab is a tight assembly of talented musicians who are poised to break out of the underground and make their mark on the metal world. For those who love classic metal from the '80s that has a crunch and drive reminiscent of bands like Anthrax and Judas Priest, Turning Circles is an album you should get your hands on. While a nostalgic sound is integral to Slavelab's music, it is by no means cliché or dated and will appeal to fans of contemporary power metal as well.

Track Listing
1 Intro 2:01
2 The Signs 3:34
3 Turning Circles 3:39
4 Paranoia 3:49
5 Bludgeon 3:10
6 By My Side 3:50
7 Maniac 3:27
8 Edge Of Sanity 3:53

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Sunday, November 6, 2005

Review: Scavenger - Madness To Our Method (2004)

Scavenger [ MySpace ]
Madness To Our Method
Sentinel Records

On the eastern shore of Ireland, a short distance north of Dublin, rests the historical town of Drogheda and the home of Scavenger. Formed in 2001, this four-piece has begun to establish themselves on the local and international scenes as a highly talented metal band able to compose intricate songs that draw influences from several metal genres. Madness To Our Method is the band's debut release on Ireland's Sentinel Records.

I'll get the review started by jumping right to my favorite track, "Ethereal Journey", to elucidate the complex yet enjoyable sound of Scavenger. Beginning with a huge, driving riff from Noel Maher that's deepened by the plucky bass of Niall Cooney, the song rumbles on as Peter Dunne lends an armful of emotion to the lyrics. Sounding on this track a little like Geoff Tate, Peter generally remains in a rough mid-range voice throughout the album though at times he dips a bit lower. "Ethereal Journey" trundles on with varying riffs, which is really the key to Scavenger's successful formula. The band has a knack for incorporating not just one or two riffs into each song, but several. Not only does this keep the album fresh though its progression, but offers something new around each corner without fraying the cohesion of the tracks. The fluid guitar breakdown, one of the best moments on the album, aids the song in creating the listening experience indicated by the title.

Stepping back to the second track, "Storm Warning", we're treated to a thundering theme riff accompanied by tremendous double-kick from Johnny Kerr. Noel deftly launches some fine lead attacks, keeping with the Peter's angered vocals. Again, the song steers clear of repetition and instead brings a plethora of time changes and beat patterns to enjoy. While Noel's guitar is the lifeblood of Madness To Our Method, solos are distinctly rare. He unleashes a brief attack on "Storm Warning", but the intentional (or possibly unintentional) studio "enhancements" make the piece sound as if it was added as an afterthought.

The remainder of the tracks follow this pattern of blending thrashy riffs, traditional metal melodies, and progressive songwriting techniques to result in what is a very intriguing album. The exception to Scavenger's blueprint is the untitled fifth track, which is instead a moderately short, trance-inducing instrumental piece that managed to work itself in to being my second favorite track of the album. Essentially highlighting Noel's ability to step back from his huge riffs and take a much more subdued, almost reverent approach to his guitar playing, the track serves as a well-placed mood enhancer between the doomy "Prisoner of Time" and "Unstoppable Motion".

Fans of mid-period Black Sabbath will find Madness To Our Method to be a quality album, as will those who enjoy the work of such bands as Megadeth, Jag Panzer, and the like.

Track Listing
1On the Outside7:37
2Storm Warning5:27
3Ethereal Journey4:57
4Prisoner of Time9:23
6Unstoppable Motion5:14
7Daydreams in Dystopia7:44

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