Thursday, November 27, 2008

Review: Adbullah - Graveyard Poetry (2001)

Abdullah [ MySpace ]
Graveyard Poetry

Modern stoner rock has ebbed and flowed in popularity since its inception by bands like Kyuss and Sleep  in the early '90s. The genre has its roots in a much earlier time, however, as it is heavily influenced by the psychedelic, doomy hard rock of the likes of Black Sabbath and Deep Purple. A fresh take on those classic sounds brought on a new popularity for a time, spawning many bands of which only a handful have managed to persist. The beginning of the current decade saw yet another wave of stoner rock resurgence, producing bands like Nebula, Priestess, and Cleveland's Abdullah. Formed in 1998 by frontman Jeff Shirilla, the band endured several line-up changes before releasing an EP and two long-players, the last of which was Graveyard Poetry.

If you're at all familiar with this particular genre, you know what to expect from Abdullah's sophomore effort - almost. Central to the band's sound are the down-tuned guitars, psychedelic vocals accentuated with ample reverb, and prominently featured bass lines. Indeed, Abdullah delivers the requisite elements in spades. What makes Graveyard Poetry stand out from other stoner rock releases are the very distinct NWOBHM influences. Sure, their sound has Black Sabbath stamped all over it, but guitarist Alan Seibert takes his riffs in a direction more reminiscent of other classic bands of that era such as Judas Priest, Saxon, and Motörhead. This results in a much more up-tempo album than one normally finds in this genre, with songs like "A Dark But Shining Sun" and "Strange Benedictions" standing out as groovy little burners. Stoner purists will still find plenty to be pleased about, as songs like "Secret Teachings Of Lost Ages" and "The Whimper Of Whipped Dogs" stick to the loping style of riffs the genre is known for. The rhythm section of Ed Stephens (bass) and Jim Simonian (drums) is a huge reason for Abdullah's successful formula. Stephens' thunderous bass adds serious force to Seibert's riffs, whether they ooze along on "Behold A Pale Horse" or leap from the speakers on "Deprogrammed". Simonian is a master behind the kit, maximizing the effect of the crash cymbals and serving up some pretty intricate beats.

I've not made much mention of Shirilla's vocal performance, but he is just as strong behind the mic as the rest of the members are on their respective instruments. The majority of Graveyard Poetry features fairly standard stoner-like vocals - plenty of reverb and overdubbing, lending a bit of a spacey and detached vibe. Shirilla contributes plenty of emotion and power, and there are times where he steps a bit outside the box to add some variety. "They, The Tyrants", for example, features harsh vocals more akin to a thrash performance than stoner rock. There's a bit of a Ministry feel to the mechanized riffs and unrestrained solo on this track as well, but the song is by no means out of place. For the most part, though, Shirilla sticks to the tried and true for a rock-solid performance.

Graveyard Poetry is an album that seemed to skid under the radar when it was released. With the genre emerging yet again thanks to bands like The Sword, however, the album has a chance to please a new crop of stoner rock fans. Abdullah is still active and releasing demos, though Simonian has left the group. The band has a wide appeal, so keep your eyes on 'em.

Track Listing
2Black Helicopters6:19
3A Dark But Shining Sun3:36
4The Whimper Of Whipped Dogs5:15
7Beyond The Mountain4:49
9Strange Benedictions7:14
10Secret Teachings Of Lost Ages4:05
11Medicine Man4:37
12Guided By The Spirit4:02
13Behold A Pale Horse7:58
14They, The Tyrants3:39
Total Runtime1:04:39

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Review: Brigantia - Chronicles of Doom (2008)

Brigantia [ MySpace | Facebook ]
Chronicles of Doom

From Ireland's County Tipperary comes and interesting new doom metal band called Brigantia. Getting together in 2007, the trio of Dave Gleeson (vocals, guitar), Neill Nevin (bass), and John Clarke (drums) have released their first recording in the form of the appropriately titled Chronicles of Doom demo. Being their first stab at putting together a recording, the production isn't top-notch but it doesn't really have a significant negative impact on the music. Brigantia's identity overcomes the studio deficiencies and stands out sharply, making Chronicles of Doom an intriguing demo.

What interests me most about Brigantia's sound, aside from the clear Cathedral influence, is the similarity to the style of doom the lads of Type O Negative put forth early in their career. Even before they adopted the blatant Gothic image, Type O was known for lavishly distorted riffs, serpentine time changes, and Peter Steele's angered vocals (far different from his now-famous bass). Gleeson's riffs on Chronicles of Doom are a tad groovier than those on early Type O releases, but familiar distortion tricks can be heard here and there though they he uses them more sparingly than does Kenny Hickey. The time changes, however, run rampant among the demo's five tracks. While mixing things up too much can really bring an album down, it's a testament to Brigantia's songwriting ability that Chronicles of Doom never falters or meanders off track. Instead, each song is full of little nuances that tend to offer something new each time the disc is spun - which to me is a sign of excellent craftsmanship.

As skillful as Gleeson is on the six-string, I won't dare say that he possesses equal vocal ability to Peter Steele. Perhaps partly due to the weak production, Gleeson's voice comes of as being a little thin overall. He's not a powerful singer, but he does convey a feeling of desolation very convincingly. Augmenting his clean delivery is an occasional bark or howl, while "Better Dead Than Red" finds him snarling his way through the more up-tempo sections of the song with a throaty death metal menace.

Even after many listens I had a difficult time isolating a single track as my favorite, since they all have plenty to offer. Whether it's the galloping, groovy riffs on "Churn The Sea", the bold bass lines on "Better Dead Than Red", or the overall sense of hopelessness created by "Definity Found", there's much to like about this demo. They're not necessarily breaking any new ground with Chronicles of Doom, but Brigantia is a very talented band that has a lot to offer metal fans. I'm excited to hear what these guys can do with proper production, so here's to hoping a label snaps Brigantia up soon.

Track Listing
1 Inseminoide 4:39
2 Churn The Sea 4:07
3 Definity Found 5:19
4 Ride To The Sabbath 4:41
5 Better Dead Than Read 5:42
Total Runtime 24:28

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Review: Lahmia - Forget Every Sunrise (2008)

Lahmia [ MySpace ]
Forget Every Sunrise

Melodic death metal is a genre that is overflowing with bands of all calibers, from the truly innovative to the woefully inadequate. In recent years it has become difficult to find a band in this style that can offer something new or fresh enough to make a positive impact, but Italy's Lahmia may well be one of those outfits that will ignite some interest. Forget Every Sunrise is the Romans' second demo and is, in many ways, very impressive. The artwork and production are both professionally done but, of course, it's the music that makes the band - not the packaging. And in this regard as well, Lahmia is exceptional.

The core of the band's sound is the Gothenburg style of death metal, much in the same vein as bands like In Flames and Children of Bodom. While Lahmia isn't offering anything really groundbreaking on Forget Every Sunrise, neither are they aping the bands who've already found success in the genre. Instead they bring to the table a fresh take on the style, incorporating significant melody and a touch of Gothic atmosphere without relying on keyboards to make it all happen. Instead, guitarists Flavio Gianello and Samuele Piacenti weave together breakneck riffs and thrashy melodies with some pretty somber acoustic leads to create a tight backdrop that exudes an overall feeling of brutal melancholy. The track that best illustrates Lahmia's interpretation of the genre is "Glass Eyed Child", which incorporates a significantly higher dosage of doom elements to give the song something of an early My Dying Bride or Katatonia feel. A distraught solo from Gianello opens the song, which soon expands with some meaty riffs before frontman Francesco Amerise adds his gurgling growl and anguished shrieks to the mix. Amerise tends to stick with a growl throughout most of Forget Every Sunrise, but he does belt out the occasional shriek in very convincing fashion. He also briefly breaks out a rather decent clean vocal style on most of the tracks which adds yet another dimension of Gothic atmosphere. Along with "Glass Eyed Child", "Game Of Sacrifice" stands out as a highlight as Amerise teams up with Gianello and Piacenti to deliver a song that is heavily influenced by more traditional power metal, with some excellent dual-guitar riffs and a very memorable bridge.

As previously mentioned, Forget Every Sunrise does not break any ground but it does prove Lahmia to be a very talented band capable of producing some interesting and enjoyable songs. Their skillful blending of Gothic and power metal elements with a strong melodeath foundation - sans keyboards - is a breath of fresh air the genre certainly needs, so keep an eye out for Lahmia to begin their rise through the death metal ranks.

Track Listing
1 Nightfall 4:40
2 Grinding Dreams 5:29
3 Glass Eyed Child 5:53
4 Game Of Sacrifice 5:19
5 The Last Dance 5:49
Total Runtime 27:10

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Review: Gargamel! - Fields of Happy (2007)

Gargamel! [ Website | MySpace | Facebook ]
Fields of Happy

Orlando's Gargamel! have been creating quite a stir in the local Florida scene since coming together in 1992. Aside from naming themselves after the villainous pedophile from The Smurfs cartoon, the band is noteworthy for energetic and theatrical live shows. Blending together heavy doses of funk with liberal chunks of progressive, grind, and alternative metal, Gargamel! creates a potent elixir that goes down smooth with the help of the always tongue-in-cheek lyrics. Humor is the constant theme throughout Fields of Happy (the band's fourth and most recent studio album), as evidenced by song titles such as "Pussy Teeth", "Eat Out Of My Butt", and "Find The Prostate".

While it's not easy to pigeonhole Gargamel! into any singular category, for all their musical acrobatics they remind me a lot of bands like Infectious Grooves, Green Jelly, and The Butthole Surfers. As experimental as their sound is, it all works. "Rainy Day Fun Book" runs the gamut from straightforward metal riffing to spacey synth ambiance to 70's Hammond-inspired grooves. As at odds with one another as those pieces sound, Gargamel! makes them all play together rather nicely. Servobeonic Man's synth features as prominently as Professor Knuckle's six-string and Crazy Hector's bass, but no one element overshadows the others so the result is a very well-balanced experience on every track. Equally impressive is the chameleon-like vocal performance of frontman and band elder Mandaddy. He seamlessly transitions from hardcore barking to black metal shrieking to a pleasant croon, delivering each style admirably and with equal conviction. Some bands having two (or more) singers fail to put together a vocal performance that matches the mood of the music as well as Mandaddy does solo with Gargamel!.

Nearly every track on Fields of Happy stands out for one reason or another, whether it be the ethnically accented gutter-humor lyrics set to a 60's surf tune on "Eat Out Of My Butt", the uncredited female matter-of-factly speaking about anal sex and sticking her finger in asses on "Find The Prostate", or the Devo-like keyboard backdrop on "We've Got A Situation Here". Even though the album is just over an hour long, there really aren't any opportunities to lose interest or hit the skip button. The only real knock I can give the album is the old trick of hiding a couple of untitled songs after a multitude of "silent" tracks. I really, really hate it when bands do this. To Gargamel!'s credit, however, the 52 filler tracks total less than a minute and the untitled songs are actually worth listening to.

Fields of Happy is not an album for everyone. A somewhat skewed sense of humor is required, as well as an open mind to accept all of the various tricks and influences. Fans of the bands I mentioned above will certainly find plenty to enjoy here, and so will a lot of listeners eager to hear something a bit out of the ordinary.

Track Listing
1 Da Devil's Bawlz 5:14
2 We've Got A Situation Here 4:18
3 Cold & Twitchy 3:06
4 Favorite Friend 3:41
5 Pussy Teeth 1:43
6 Dr. Ripper, OBGYN 5:23
7 Too Much To Share 4:08
8 Knuckle's Sandwich 1:14
9 Rainy Day Fun Book 5:02
10 Party Weapon 5:23
11 Eat Out Of My Butt 1:08
12 Language Of The Knife 4:23
13 Get Up & Go! 3:45
14 Find The Prostrate 2:07
15 Papa Didn't Expect Supper 7:10
Total Runtime 1:08:01

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Review: Bitter Suite - Crime of Love (2005)

Bitter Suite
Crime of Love
Metal Mayhem

Bitter Suite is a one-off project of Canadian singer/songwriter/guitarist/producer David J. Petovar, who wrote all of the songs that appear on Crime of Love back in 1991 and 1992. Several stalwarts of the Canadian AOR scene contribute their talents to the album, including George Christon (Kick Axe), Don Wilk (White Wolf), and Craig Brooks (Touch). It's fair to compare Bitter Suite to those bands, along with other notables such as Loverboy and Honeymoon Suite. Crime of Love contains 13 tracks of highly melodic rock that remain upbeat and fun to listen to, despite lyrical content revolving around broken hearts and ended relationships.

Christon has the lead vocal role for the first two tracks and is clearly the strongest singer on the album. While he's not quite as forceful as he was in his days with Kick Axe, he still manages to sing with plenty of power and convincing emotion. Wilk takes over vocal duties on the next three tracks, giving a bit of a grittier performance than Christon but just slightly less evocative. Petrovar himself sings on five of the remaining six tracks, which is a bit unfortunate. He has limited range and at times even sounds a tad off key, but is by no means a bad singer. Musically you get what you'd expect from a band comprised of '80s AOR veterans. Although the guitars are a bit thin, they are expertly played by Petrovar and Steve Crane. Hooky riff follows hooky riff as Crane belts out some solid solos, though it's all more elementary than flashy. What would AOR be without plenty of piano runs and keyboard atmosphere to go around? Crime of Love offers up heaping portions of those elements as well, but again it's all played rather safe without a lot of flare. While much of the album hovers somewhat close to being monotonous, Petovar tosses in a couple of surprises to end the disc. "Forever Tonight" features Carrie Jay on vocals, who sounds a bit like a cross between Ann Wilson and Stevie Nicks. Bringing the flow of the album to a screeching halt, however, is the final track "Bad Boy". The song features Kelly Brock behind the mic and she does an admirable job. The problem with this song is that it sounds like something that should be on a Paula Abdul album, not a melodic rock disc. Very much an '80s pop dance tune, it's completely out of place on Crime of Love. I guess Petovar had one too many Molsons when it came time to decide what songs make the album.

For melodic hard rock fans, Crime of Love is an album worth adding to your collection even though it's a bit more reserved than other recent releases. The songs are well-written and enjoyable, just don't expect anything groundbreaking. If you can't stand AOR, I'd advise steering clear of this album no matter how much the cover photo of Jen Hilton entices you.

Track Listing
1Crime of Love3:48
2Prayin' For The Rain3:43
3Forbidden Desires4:00
4My Lucky Day3:35
5Hard To Say It's Over3:29
6Here Tonight3:30
7Right Place, Wrong Time3:26
8Look Into My Heart3:36
9Give Me The Night2:59
10If I Live Tomorrow4:17
11After The Storm4:24
12Forever Tonight3:44
13Bad Boy3:29
Total Runtime48:00

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Review: The Zimmermann Note - New Deception (2005)

The Zimmermann Note [ MySpace ]
New Deception

The Zimmermann Note was a telegram sent by Germany's Foreign Secretary, Arthur Zimmermann, attempting to entice Mexico to side with Germany should the United States enter WWI. In exchange for making war on the US, Germany would return to Mexico territories it lost during the Mexican-American War - namely Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico. The telegram was intercepted and, when made public, became one of the catalysts which catapulted the United States into the war against Germany and her allies. Perhaps hoping to make as much of an impact on the metal scene as the telegram made on the global scene, several extreme metallers from Pittsburgh have joined together and adopted The Zimmermann Note as their moniker.

Featuring ex-members of Commit Suicide and Better Off Dead, The Zimmermann Note (TZN) blends together elements of death and black metal with a hardcore foundation to deliver what is pretty much standard fare for the metalcore genre. On New Deception, TZN's sophomore release, the band makes an overt attempt to bridge together melody and brutality but, ultimately, it's the ferocity that overpowers any chance this EP has of creating something more than just passing interest. Guitarists Joe and Damian put together some highly technical riffs and aren't afraid to lay down a crisp solo here and there. They shine on the more thrashy riffs of the title track and "Grace in the Depths of Ignorance" - the highlight of the EP - but they rely too much on blistering speed and so fail to consistently put together well-constructed riffs. The beginning of "Gluttonous Prayer" shows the band capable of altering pace, with a very Slayer-esque intro featuring an ominous lead and clean vocals from frontman Travis French. It's not long, however, before the blast beats and frantic riffs return. Another overused staple of the genre is French's howling/shrieking vocal style. A bit more reliance on clean vocals may have helped add depth, but so much about New Deception is generic that a lot more would have to be improved before TZN could expand their audience beyond the Hot Topic crowd.

It's been three years since the release of New Deception and TZN have yet to follow it up with anything, although the band is still active. French has been replaced behind the mic, which may indicate a change in direction for the band. Hopefully so.

Track Listing
1 Onyx Tide 4:06
2 New Deception 3:30
3 Pascal's Wager 3:54
4 Gluttonous Prayer 4:26
5 Grace in the Depths of Ignorance 3:50
Total Runtime 19:46

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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Review: Black Water Rising - Brother Go On (2008)

Black Water Rising [ Website | MySpace | Facebook ]
Brother Go On

Black Water Rising is the latest project from Brooklyn singer/songwriter/guitarist Rob Traynor, who may be known to some of you for his atmospheric rock band Dust To Dust. Joining Traynor in this latest venture is guitarist Johnny Fattoruso (Stereomud, Five Year Stare), drummer Mike Meselsohn (Boiler Room) and Oddie McLaughlin on bass. The group came together in 2006 and began gigging around New York before heading into the studio to record their debut album, which is due out before the end of 2008. In the meantime, they've released a limited edition EP featuring the single "Brother Go On" and three other tracks - one of which will not be appearing on the full-length.

From the opening notes of the title track, Brother Go On oozes backwoods Southern groove. Fuzzy, bottom-tuned riffs rule the day, powered along by gritty leads and chest-thumping percussion. Comparisons to Clutch and Monster Magnet leap immediately to mind, and in many ways Black Water Rising exudes a comparable vibe, but there are enough subtle differences to separate Traynor's project from the others that traverse similar waters. On "Living Proof", for example, Traynor mixes in a bit of throat-shredding with his usual husky style of delivery to provide a deeper sense of anguish. "Hate Machine" kicks off with a stoner riff before abruptly switching gears and taking on an alt-metal ambiance more like something from Traynor's previous work with Dust To Dust. Next to "Brother Go On", I found this track to be the most enjoyable on the EP due to the nice tempo changes and vocal harmonies. The psychedelic elements never disappear for long, keeping the song from sounding too out-of-place from the other tracks.

Brother Go On is an exciting glimpse at what is yet to come from Black Water Rising. The band has an excellent formula to capture attention not only in the hard rock underground but could very well crack into mainstream rock radio. I definitely recommend keeping an eye on these guys.

Track Listing
1Brother Go On2:53
2Living Proof4:57
3Hate Machine4:42
4Something's Wrong4:37
Total Runtime17:09

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Saturday, November 1, 2008

Review: Crossbow - Father (2001)

Crossbow [ Website | MySpace ]

Crossbow, hailing from the western German city of Dortmund, came together as Savannah  in the mid-1990s. It wasn't until 2001 that the band, after changing monikers and personnel, released their first studio recording - the seven track demo Father. The album is a demo in every sense, from poor production to DIY artwork, but as unrefined as it is Crossbow's potential still manages to poke through.

After a rather pointless intro track, Father is kicked off by "... The Mirror Black". Guitarists Alfred Tietz and Markus Hochstein lay down some crunchy riffs that ooze with a very doomish vibe, which combined with some simple (but well-played) solos mark Crossbow's sound as being firmly in the realm of Teutonic-styled true metal. Latvian frontman David Ivanov sounds a bit like a cross between Glenn Danzig and Eric Adams (Manowar), though he still needs a lot of refinement to be successful in this genre. While his performance is for the most part tolerable, the power ballad "Devil Knows (My Name)" draws attention to his shortcomings. The latter stages of the track find the pace quickened dramatically and reinforced with some buzzsaw riffs, giving Ivanov the opportunity to return to his gruff comfort zone. While "Devil Knows (My Name)" stands out for its flaws, the rest of the demo is a fairly good bit of old school power metal.

Father proves that Crossbow is made up of some talented musicians who just need to tighten it up a bit to take things to the next level. Ivanov needs a bit more work than that, though. He struggles an awful lot, but he possesses enthusiasm in spades and could be a powerful singer with some refinement. For the casual metal fan, Father probably isn't a release you'd want to get your hands on. For the more serious genre collector, though, the disc does contain a few moments to get excited about.

Track Listing
1 Intro 0:36
2 The Mirror Black 6:11
3 Devil Knows (My Name) 7:29
4 Mind Ripper 3:38
5 Father 4:42
6 Shoot'em Down 5:03
7 Pirates of the Midnight Sun 6:01
Total Runtime 32:57

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