Saturday, January 31, 2009

Review: Heave - Promo 2005 (2005)

Heave [ Website | MySpace ]
Promo 2005

Formed in Sweden's capital city back in 1994, Heave spread their brand of crushing metal throughout Stockholm by relentless gigging in support of the three demos they released over the course of six years. Heave's sound during this period was fairly generic power metal molded in the image of bands like Iced Earth and Jag Panzer, but the year 2000 saw the band embark on a new course. Frontman Per Richard left the band to be replaced in 2005 by the charismatic Anna Olsson. Promo 2005 is Heave's first demo since Anna took over behind the mic and offers a glimpse of what's offered on the band's full-length debut.

At first glance, Heave could be mistaken for yet another female-fronted symphonic power metal band similar to Nightwish, After Forever, Lunatica... the list goes on and on. While there are similarities, Heave offers metal fans something a bit more substantial in terms of uniqueness. Backed up by the admirable rhythm section of Pasi Lappa (bass) and founder Patrik Nikolic (drums), the mammoth riffs laid down by Putti Stoor are reminiscent of early Iced Earth and Tad Morose. Even though there are only three songs offered here, each one contains enough variation to keep Heave's core sound - punishing as it is - from becoming stagnant. The main riff of "Stranger" is highly infectious, though the guitar tone on "Neverfall" is darker and more menacing. "Fears Come Alive" is the highlight of the promo, containing the most complex riff patterns of the three songs and featuring Lappi's bass in a prominent role.

All that being said, the core element in Heave's reinvented sound is the voice of Anna Olsson. She's certainly not of the operatic sort, being more like Doro and Cristina Scabbia (Lacuna Coil) in style. She's an excellent fit for Heave's aggressive sound, complimenting the menace and emotion of the music with her own convincing performance. Anna also has admirable range, sustaining some pretty impressive high notes on "Neverfall" and "Fears Come Alive". A newcomer to the metal scene, she's got what a lot of bands out there are looking for.

Final Day, the debut album that this promo foreshadows, has been released according to Heave's website. If the three songs on this promo are indicative of that album's overall quality, then make the effort to get your hands on it. Fans of everything from Lacuna Coil to Nightwish to Iced Earth will be interested in adding Final Day to their collection.
Track Listing
1 Stranger 3:35
2 Neverfall 4:12
3 Fears Come Alive 3:52
Total Runtime 11:39

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Review: Slug - Not For Sale (2005)

Slug [ Website | MySpace ]
Not For Sale

Brazil's Slug formed in 1992 as a straightforward thrash outfit, but their second full-length release (2002's Points Of View) marked a decline toward unapologetic Load-era Metallica worship. Not For Sale, released three years later, shows that little about Slug's style has changed since the previous album.

Frontman Carlos Andre Cascelli does a fine impersonation of James Hetfield, albeit with a heavy accent and occasionally broken English. While his vocal performance is the most obvious Metallica trait heard on Not For Sale, the overall structure of the songs are distinctly reminiscent of the material spewed forth by the Californians in the 1990s. Fully half of the ten songs on this album can be written off as clones. Sure, Cascelli and Guilherme Negrão lay down some flashy leads and scorching solos, but the bottomed out riffs and frequent time changes have Metallica worship written all over them. Even the power ballad "I Always Wanna Change" can't escape this criticism, sounding quite a bit like "The Unforgiven II".

With half the songs being the same sort of Metalli-drivel that still floods the radio airwaves to this day, there are five tracks on which the members of Slug attempt to break away from the norm and exert a bit of originality. "Oasis" is the song that I found to be most interesting, as it opens with a slight Middle Eastern flavored guitar lead that soon gets knocked aside by some seriously powerful riffs. Cascelli and Negrão display considerable skill as they weave solos and leads together, but the song never seems to gain momentum. The same can be said about all of the songs on Not For Sale, actually. The band has some good ideas, but just about when you expect a track to really kick you in the ass ... nothing. As for that originality I hinted at, "Alone" features an acoustic guitar intro over which Cascelli adopts a Gothic, almost spoken word style that lends a sinister air to the track. Some Satriani-like melodic soloing makes an appearance on "The Loss", and the pummeling double-bass from Ricardo Coura is a highlight on "Pearls Before Swine", but these moments are ultimately overshadowed by the Metallica-isms that are never far from the surface.

In the end, if you're a fan of that less-than-impressive period of Metallica's career, then Slug's Not For Sale is right up your alley. These Brazilians displayed a knack for some serious melodic thrash on their debut album, so for me it's disappointing to find them wallowing in Metallica's shadow. Hopefully they can capitalize on the bits of creativity shown here and pull themselves back into the light.

Track Listing
1 I Believe My Lies 3:16
2 Salvation 4:08
3 I Always Wanna Change 5:09
4 Not For Sale 5:33
5 Oasis 6:27
6 The Loss 3:20
7 I'm Trying 4:12
8 Waiting To Die 3:51
9 Alone 4:51
10 Pearls Before Swine 4:07
Total Runtime 44:54

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Review: Psionic - promo (2006)


Southern California's Psionic is a band that isn't afraid to experiment. Sort of like a Heavy Metal diversity council, they seek to erase subgenre boundaries by blending together elements of thrash, industrial metal, power metal, and even screamo. They call this metallic stew "cyber metal", and have been dishing out heaping portions of it since 2000. Having released a demo and an indie long-player thus far, Psionic's latest offering is an untitled 4-track promo designed to showcase the latest version of their intriguing concoction.

"Under Silent Rule" gets the promo started with a thick, traditional metal inspired riff silhouetted against a subtle keyboard backdrop. The synth element is a major factor in Psionic's sound, which stands to reason since all three musicians (Robert Nusslein - vox, Gary Miranda - bass, Mike Pardi - guitars) make keyboard contributions. Initially serving mostly to create a slightly ominous background, the keys do make a more prominent appearance as the song (and album) progresses. For instance, the latter moments of "Under Silent Rule" delve into the world of atmospheric Black Metal as the keys overtake the guitars. "Ethereality" starts off with some scratchy electronic pops and clicks before Nusslein punches it open with a Nu-ish yelp. It's not long, however, before he slips back in to his predominate style - which reminds me a lot of Jay Godron's (Orgy) emotionally detached tone, though with a slight Marilyn Manson menace. His performance is a major factor in bringing the industrial edge to the mix, given that the synth pieces run the range from industrial to power metal. Pardi's weighty riffs on "Transpire" are a typical example of his importance to Psionic's sound. Not only does he infuse the songs with locomotive energy, his noodling leads and screeching solos drop a megaton of thrash into the cauldron to keep the disc from drifting too far into the stratosphere. The final track, "Wordless Aeons", showcases Psionic's vision of the future. All of their core elements are present, though this time the band builds tension and lends an epic air to the song through the use of orchestration. I'm reminded a slight bit of Therion, with somewhat of a Rammstein vibe, but Nusslein drops some more screamo moments that tarnish the effect. Pardi's riffs are mostly of the stop-start variety here, which when coupled with Nusslein's screams tend to offset the orchestral work.

Psionic's take on metal is, overall, an interesting one. There's an awful lot of cross-genre appeal at work within these four tracks, giving the band the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of acts like Fear Factory, Powerman 5000, and Godhead. Unfortunately, it seems that Psionic has slipped off the radar screen and their status is uncertain. Pardi has resurfaced in a few other Southern California metal projects, which may mean that Psionic is no more. Be that as it may, fans of industrialized metal who can stomach some Nu-metal influences should try to get their hands on Psionic's earlier work.

Track Listing
1Under Silent Rule5:07
4Wordless Aeons3:45
Total Runtime16:59

Monday, January 19, 2009

Review: Armored Saint - March of the Saint (1984)

Armored Saint [ Website | MySpace | Facebook | Twitter ]
March of the Saint
Chrysalis Records

When thinking of the southern California metal scene in the early 1980s, bands like Mötley Crüe, Ratt, Metallica and Slayer  are usually the first to come to mind. The L.A. region during that time period produced two very distinct styles of metal that heavy music fans everywhere latched onto - the sleaze/glam metal of bands like Ratt and Crüe, and the speed/thrash of Metallica and Slayer. Often lost among the big name bands of that era were groups that traveled a middle road between the two popular styles. Paying homage to their NWOBHM influences without deviating too far from that tried-and-true formula were bands like Omen, Cirith Ungol, Warlord, and Armored Saint. As Metallica and Mötley Crüe rose to superstardom, Armored Saint suffered the effects of poor business decisions and sticking to a "traditional" metal sound. As if adding insult to injury, Metallica  had asked frontman John Bush to become their vocalist just as they were getting underway, but he refused in order to devote his time to Armored Saint.

March Of The Saint was Armored Saint's 1984 full-length debut. The band had released an EP the year before on Metal Blade, but lured away by a popular label with deep pockets they (unwisely) signed with Chrysalis. The biz folks at Chrysalis hadn't a clue how to promote a heavy metal album, so while label mates Billy Idol and Huey Lewis and the News worked their way up the charts, Armored Saint languished in obscurity. One decent decision made by the label was the album's eye-catching artwork, sure to snag the attention of any D & D playing teenager willing to rifle through the album bins looking for bargains (yes, that's how it went for me that fateful day in '84 when I first discovered Armored Saint). But enough of the history lesson.

What Armored Saint did on March Of The Saint was lay down ten tracks of pure, unadulterated heavy metal. At times it's hard not to think that you're listening to a Saxon or Judas Priest album, the adherence to the NWOBHM model is so strict. The twin-guitar attack from Dave Prichard and Phil Sandoval provides the basis on which each song is built, their dueling solos and leads equal to any of their contemporaries. Joey Vera's bass is high in the mix, as it should be, providing plenty of groove and bite. Gonzo (an appropriate name for a drummer) is masterful behind the kit, kicking out some fairly complex patterns in addition to the more pedestrian fills. Bush's vocal performance is of course a highlight. He has that classic metal style - a bit of a sneer mixed with a whole lotta grit.

Unfortunately, despite all of the talent in Armored Saint, March Of The Saint is really only a solidly good album in the grand scheme of things. Nothing here is groundbreaking, nor are there any moments that truly kick you in the ass. The epic beginning of the title track stands out, as do the locomotive riffs and gang choruses on "Mad House" and "Can U Deliver". The album as a whole is enjoyable, as is each song individually. Some would say that in of itself is an accomplishment, and while I don't disagree with that statement, I think today's metal fans are much more demanding than we were back in the day. If it rocked, it was good. For me, March Of The Saint rocks.

This is an excellent album to become acquainted with Armored Saint, and fans who long for that unfiltered heavy metal of the early '80s will undoubtedly find much to enjoy here as well. The simplistic, no-frills heavy metal offered here makes March Of The Saint one of the hidden gems of a bygone era.

Track Listing
1March Of The Saint4:11
2Can U Deliver3:34
3Mad House3:53
4Take A Turn3:50
6Mutiny On The World3:29
7Glory Hunter5:09
8Stricken By Fate3:30
10False Alarm4:14
Total Runtime38:35

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

Review: Grey Skies Fallen - Two Way Mirror (2006)

Grey Skies Fallen [ Website | MySpace | Facebook ]
Two Way Mirror

New York's Grey Skies Fallen is a band with a tumultuous history, as is often the case for up-and-coming acts, having gone through numerous break-ups and line-up shuffles since forming in 1996. Co-founder and frontman Rick Habeeb weathered the successive storms and somehow managed to keep the band alive through it all. He's rejoined by original guitarist Joe D'Angelo on Two Way Mirror, an album that marks a significant shift in style for Grey Skies Fallen. Originally a Doom/Death outfit with similarities to early Katatonia and My Dying Bride, the band opts for a very moody Prog Metal style on this release. While drastic shifts such as this can and do lead to disaster, I find Two Way Mirror to be the strongest and most mature Grey Skies Fallen album to date.

What impresses me most is the band's songwriting ability. It's clear that these guys took the time during the writing process to attend to every detail, placing each guitar solo and drum fill with precision. Unlike many heavy metal artists, the members of Grey Skies Fallen understand how to craft a song that fully involves the listener by building musical tension as the piece progresses toward an eventual climax. In this respect, underlying influences from band like Rush and Yes are discernible. Grey Skies Fallen achieves this sense of envelopment through intricately woven atmospheres that rely primarily on melodic riffs and leads from Habeeb and D'Angelo, as well as Craig Rossi's lush keyboard accents. These elements all work together, mutually supportive without one consistently overshadowing another - which is yet another sign of quality songwriting. Rossi's proggy keys are very distinct on tracks such as "Carry On" and "Blue", while fretwork is the primary ingredient on "This Sinking Feeling" and "Forget the Past", yet an overall balance is maintained throughout the course of the album.

With a drastic shift in musical direction also comes a significant change in vocal style for Habeeb. Gone (almost) are the Death Metal grunts and howls, replaced by a more classic rock style of singing that sounds like something of mix between Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull), Layne Staley (Alice In Chains), and Doug Pinnick (King's X). Habeeb has a great voice for the musical mood of Two Way Mirror, which he enhances on "Blue" and "This Sinking Feeling" by briefly returning to his former harsh method of delivery.

While I'm impressed with the album as a whole, the two tracks that stand apart from the rest are "Drift" and "Forget the Past". The former combines somber piano passages with atmospheric guitar leads to cement a feeling of utter desolation and grief, setting the stage for the emotional trek to come. "Forget the Past" is the slowest track on the album, but picks up the pace during a groovy '70s-rock-inspired solo before fading out with some crunchy twin-guitar leads. In the end, Two Way Mirror is a well-crafted, cohesive collection of songs that takes the listener on an emotionally dark journey. Buoyant moments, like the uplifting riffs heard on "The Opposite of Up", contrast with expressions of anger, but overall the album conveys a sense of melancholy and despair.

Grey Skies Fallen vow to return to their former Death Metal style on their next release, but I feel that would be a mistake. They have a knack for some complex songwriting, and ought to expand on the ideas they've experimented with on Two Way Mirror. Fans of dark progressive metal should do themselves a favor by adding this disc to their collection.

Track Listing
1 Blue 5:39
2 Drift 3:40
3 Two Way Mirror 4:23
4 The Opposite of Up 5:27
5 This Sinking Feeling 4:11
6 Forget the Past 6:50
7 The Few 4:04
8 Carry On 5:31
Total Runtime 39:45

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Saturday, January 3, 2009

Review: Demented Are Go - Hellbilly Storm (2005)

Demented Are Go [ Website | MySpace ]
Hellbilly Storm

Demented Are Go is a band that, along with The Cramps, defined a subgenre of Punk Rock that has come to be known as Psychobilly. Formed in Cardiff, Wales, in 1982 by Mark Phillips (aka Sparky), the band combined lyrical themes based on slasher movies with fairly straightforward rock 'n roll and out-of-control live performances to carve out their niche. Throughout the '80s and '90s, Demented Are Go released several albums and toured extensively but never rose above cult status due to the members' outrageous off-stage antics - Sparky's in particular. His streak of arrests continued into the new millennium, ultimately resulting in the cancellation of their 2006 North American tour due to "immigration issues". Seemingly held together by strings, the band remains active in Europe.

Hellbilly Storm is Demented Are Go's eighth studio album and my first exposure to the band. The album is surprisingly likable, offering many opportunities for comparison to bands like Motörhead and AC/DC. Sparky has a gruff voice and an in-your-face style that is remarkably similar to Lemmy's, while the band's overall sound is basically the same stripped down rock 'n roll that both Motörhead and AC/DC have pumped out for decades. This simplicity makes Hellbilly Storm a very approachable album, even in spite of the shock-value the band is going for. The majority of the songs contain tongue-in-cheek lyrics inspired by the B movies of the '70s and '80s, most notably so on tracks like "Jogging Machine" and "Out Of Control".

While the straightforward rock style makes Hellbilly Storm an album that is easy to get into, it also harms the long-term listenability of the disc. Just like any Motörhead album, all of the tracks pretty much sound the same and begin to bleed into one another as the album progresses. There are a few surprises tucked in here and there to hold your interest, however. Just when the album seems to have fallen into a rut, "Doin' Me In" ignites interest with kick-ass riffs accompanied by bluesy harmonica leads. This song is by far the best of the album and will easily have you rockin' along, perhaps even exercising your air guitar antics during some of the raucous solos. "Someone's Out To Get Me" is equally as entertaining, though not as rollicking, and contains plenty of acoustic riffs. Sparky delivers his best performance on this track, singing rather than shouting and imbuing the lyrics with more convincing energy. Hellbilly Storm closes out with "When Death Rides A Horse", the track I found to be the most enjoyable. It harnesses a classic Country & Western sound, sort of like something out of those '70s western comedy films, and features "chain gang" choruses as well as Sparky in a duet with an uncredited female singer (who if you ask me sounds a bit like the late Wendy O. Williams).

If you're a fan of Motörhead and don't have a problem with the silliness of Demented Are Go's lyrics and look, then Hellbilly Storm is an album you'll enjoy and is also a good way to get introduced to this influential band. It's unlikely that the band will make a North American appearance anytime soon, but hopefully Sparky and crew can keep it together long enough to infect the Punk world with another studio album.

Track Listing
1 Pedigree Scum 2:10
2 The Noose (That Snapped) 3:08
3 Hellbilly Storm 3:23
4 Skating In The Rain 2:30
5 Out Of Control 4:08
6 Block Up 3:46
7 Hotrod Vampires 3:14
8 Destruction Boy 3:09
9 Doin' Me In 2:34
10 Demon Seed 3:07
11 Jogging Machine 2:29
12 Someone's Out To Get Me 3:32
13 When Death Rides A Horse 3:03
Total Runtime 40:13

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Thursday, January 1, 2009

Review: Lucifixion - As Evil As Me (2005)

Lucifixion [ Website | MySpace ]
As Evil As Me

Originating among the farms of extreme northwestern Ohio, Lucifixion  was formed back in 1990 as a fairly straightforward Death Metal outfit. In the mid-'90s they released a demo and a full-length, but line-up turmoil forced founding member Jeremiah Riley (vocals, drums) to put the band on something of a hiatus. In 2003 Lucifixion embarked upon a new chapter of existence, recruiting new members and incorporating a female vocal element. The 3-song demo As Evil As Me, released in 2005, showcases the band's new direction as they shift from a traditional grinding Death Metal sound to something a bit more melodic.

Although easing up on the brutality, Lucifixion is far from being one of the hundreds of melodeath bands bobbing around on the ocean of heavy metal these days. Very little, if any, Gothenburg influences can be heard on As Evil As Me. Instead, the band turns toward a more traditional thrash sound - with a nod to the NWOBHM movement - thanks to twin-guitar riffs and blistering leads from Andy Hamlet and Austin Waidelich. Comparisons to early Bay Area thrashers would not be unfounded, as the band works quite well together to produce some quality riffs and punchy rhythms.

The addition of Maria Seeburger to the mix is an interesting move, but understandable given the unwavering popularity of women in metal. Unfortunately, the band hasn't quite figured out how to best utilize the qualities she brings to the table. In nearly every spot that Maria makes an appearance, the tempo (and entire mood) of the song is altered to accommodate her vocals. These abrupt shifts are quite disruptive to the overall flow of each track and serve only to distract. Additionally, Maria doesn't possess a very strong voice. She's not horrible, but until she strengthens her performance Lucifixion's music will only suffer. Jeremiah's vocals, on the other hand, are well up to par. He attacks the lyrics with a scratchy snarl that is both aggressive and intelligible.

Ultimately, Lucifixion is a band in the process of finding its identity. The female vocals, if improved and pursued further, could be a nice touch and an interesting angle. Even without them, As Evil As Me proves the band to be capable of delivering some quality Death Metal. These guys are worth keeping on your radar.

Track Listing
1 As Evil As Me 5:57
2 Saga 6:57
3 Death's Design 5:10
Total Runtime 18:04

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