Saturday, November 19, 2011

Metal Art Gallery: Arcania - Sweet Angel Dust

I'd like to try a new feature here at Harvest Moon Music. All of my reviews feature an image of the album cover art, but rarely do I give an opinion about it one way or the other. While most artwork has little to do with the music it's supposed to represent, cover art alone is quite a powerful marketing tool and has resulted in many an impulse purchase over the years - and I know that I'm not the only one guilty of doing so. Now I'd like to devote an irregular feature to examining some of the more attention-grabbing artwork that the metal world has to offer.

For the inaugural post, let's have a look at the cover to Sweet Angel Dust, the 2010 full-length debut from French thrashers Arcania.

Arcania - Sweet Angel Dust

I'm no art critic, but I know when I see a work of art that appeals to me. The cover of Sweet Angel Dust is just such an image. The first thing that drew me to this cover wasn't the interpretation of disintegrating innocence that dominates the foreground, but the ominous storm sweeping across the recently harvested fields in the background. The impending destruction carried on the winds of those blackened clouds inspires feelings of tension and dread, while the ravens alight on the headwinds foreshadow the potential carnage that will be left in the storm's wake. Any sense of innocence prior to the storm's arrival will certainly be shattered, changing lives forever.

For more information about Arcania or Sweet Angel Dust, stop by the band's Facebook page.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Video: Steel Panther - If You Really Really Love Me

Hollywood spoof hair metal outfit Steel Panther have released a video for "If You Really Really Love Me", a song which appears on their recently-released sophomore album Balls Out. Just as Spinal Tap spoofed the early days of metal, Steel Panther exaggerates the debauchery and excess of the '80s to comedic heights. Balls Out is a raunchy, laughable (in a good way) album that fans of the era really ought to get their hands on.

For more info: Website | Facebook | MySpace

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Review: Nemesea - The Quiet Resistance (2011)

Nemesea [Website | Facebook | MySpace]
The Quiet Resistance

Nemesea - The Quiet Resistance
Since forming in 2002, Dutch electro-rockers Nemesea - fronted by the comely Manda Ophuis - have been diligently carving out a place for themselves among the rising stars of the commercialized Goth metal scene. With Manda's superb vocals, an almost overpowering keyboard presence, and tunes crafted specifically for modern rock radio, Nemesea's third album The Quiet Resistance is on par with recent releases from stylistic compatriots Lacuna Coil, Evanescence, and UnSun.

Taken for what it is, The Quiet Resistance is a fine example of infectious pop-metal that will undoubtedly snare rock radio zealots with hooky melodies, Manda's impassioned vocals, and lush keyboard arrangements that often relegate Henrik Jan (HJ) de Jong's riffs to a supporting role. That's an unfortunate aspect of the album, from a metal point of view, since the guitar presence is quite interesting when given the spotlight. Still, songs like "Caught in the Middle" and "Afterlife" have a way of inserting themselves into your memory with refrains that are anything but forgettable.

Considering that The Quiet Resistance is being released in the waning months of 2011, Nemesea commits a bit of a rock faux pas by drawing on some passé trends - namely turntable scratches. "Say" is the first song to embrace this dated element, offering them up briefly as perhaps a grounding contrast to some rather nice synth accents. "It's Over" goes full nu-metal , however, as Bulletproof Messenger's Matt Litwin provides the scratches while his bandmate Marcus Klavan takes over the microphone. The song does feature a nice solo from HJ, but not enough to legitimize the overall atmosphere.

The Quiet Resistance is unquestionably most engaging when Nemesea keeps the pace mid-tempo and above, but the band has a propensity for slowing things down for songs that I respectfully call "chick rock". Essentially ballads with a touch of crunch, these tracks would not be at all out of place in the next installment of The Princess Diaries franchise. "If You Could" and "I Live" fall squarely into the ballad category, as does "High Enough". The latter song features a guest vocal appearance from Delain's Charlotte Wessels, who lends her capable skills to Manda's already endearing performance.

While much of the album is devoted to merging with the mainstream, Nemesea does reach back to their electro-rock roots to keep The Quiet Resistance from becoming too consistent. The intro track and "2012" are pretty much fillers, with digitally enhanced spoken-word lyrics and synthesized background noise. "Rush", with a disarmingly mellow industrial sound, resembles something Björk would have released in her Post period, while the Casio beats of "Release Me" are straight out of the '80s. One of the album's highlights, particularly from a metal perspective, is the closing track "Allein". A Goth/electro/industrial hybrid straight out of a Rammstein fetish party, the song features Heli Reissenweber of the Rammstein tribute band Stahlzeit delivering the German-language lyrics. A nice finishing touch.

Acknowledging that The Quiet Resistance is an album tailor-made for contemporary rock radio masses, there's no argument that Nemesea have put together a collection of songs that will please their target demographic. With a talented singer like Manda fronting the band, though, Nemesea could easily rival bands like Tristania, Stream of Passion and Sirenia for attention from metal fans should they choose such a direction. Maybe next time.

Track Listing
1The Quiet Resistance0:52
2Caught in the Middle4:50
5If You Could3:55
6High Enough4:13
8It's Over4:00
9I Live4:31
10Stay With Me3:49
12Release Me3:40
Total Runtime56:04

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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Review: Vomitron - No NES for the Wicked (2011)

Vomitron [Website | Facebook | MySpace]
No NES for the Wicked

Vomitron - No NES for the Wicked
Although I was in my middle teens when the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) revolutionized the video game world, the allure of the compact console never managed to dissuade me from dropping quarters into the arcade-style setup at the local 7-11. Thus, I did not fall prey to console gaming and have managed to navigate life without being referred to as a "gamer", at least not in the electronic sense of the name. Even so, I am familiar with the themes to such games as Contra and Zelda, making Vomitron's latest offering No NES for the Wicked, an instrumental metallic soundtrack of some of the NES' more popular titles, a bit nostalgic even for me.

Multi-instrumentalist Peter Rutcho, the sole member of Vomitron, has found considerable success in the Massachusetts metal scene as the guitarist for thrashers Graveheart as well as keyboardist for the bands Frozen and Armory (whose The Dawn of Enlightenment I reviewed here). His first release under the Vomitron moniker was a bit of a metal/electronica hybrid, but with No NES for the Wicked he remains squarely within metallic confines, though just about every sub-genre from prog to thrash is leveraged to give the video game themes a proper metal makeover. All of the songs presented here should be familiar to seasoned video game aficionados, though the short bits from Tetris may throw those with fewer years under their belts.

Given Rutcho's background, it probably goes without saying that fancy fretwork and nimble ivory-tickling dominate No NES for the Wicked - but I've gone ahead and said it anyway. On the surface, the album may seem like a novelty to assist old-school gamers in reminiscing about callous-thumbed days gone by, but a closer inspection reveals much more than a simple homage to a revolutionary home entertainment system. "Contra", for example, contains some pretty intricate riffs that have a hefty bit of crunch to them, as well as some frantic piano and dancing synth bits...and explosions. The detail with which Rutcho crafted the arrangement makes this track one of the highlights of the album, along with "Castlevania". The closing track, "Castlevania" is perhaps the most progressive song on No NES for the Wicked, with frequent tempo shifts and very lively leads. The bass guitar, infused with a bit of funk, is a nice touch.

Elsewhere on the album, Rutcho channels his inner Satriani for some very sharp solos and crisp melodies. I couldn't help but be reminded of Thomas Dolby's work when listening to the synth effects on "Blaster Master", while the keyboard work of "Ninja Gaiden: Acts 4-6" brings to mind the Harold Faltermeyer groove of the '80s. Rutcho mines that particular sound even further on this track by tossing in some nice '80s hard rock riffs and solos.

Rutcho shines on No NES for the Wicked, his sharp guitar playing and complex keyboard work a testament to his talent and ability. With Vomitron being his experimental outlet, it's hard saying where Rutcho will head next, but for fans of sharp instrumental metal - as well as prog fans in general - No NES for the Wicked is more than worth investigating. For metal-loving gamers, I daresay it's a must-have album.

Track Listing
1Filtered Blow0:19
3Blaster Master8:24
5The Legend of Zelda3:53
6Ninja Gaiden: Acts 1-38:34
8Double Dragon8:10
10Ninja Gaiden: Acts 4-68:30
11The Soviet Mind Game0:50
12Zelda II: The Adventure of Link7:15
Total Runtime1:07:20

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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Review: Lord Volture - Never Cry Wolf (2011)

Lord Volture [Website | Facebook | MySpace]
Never Cry Wolf

Lord Volture - Never Cry Wolf
With the old school heavy metal renaissance in full swing, the novelty of bands reaching back to the traditional sounds of decades past has worn rather thin. Fans of the movement (I am in fact one of those fans, if you haven't guessed) have begun adopting a critical ear, demanding precision - if not ingenuity - from outfits looking to make an impact on the style. Succeed, and you will be revered. Falter, and you will be shunned. It's a dog-eat-dog metal world, my friends, but it's a world that Dutch traditional metallers Lord Volture hope to conquer with their sophomore release Never Cry Wolf.

If you're a regular reader of this blog, and I hope that you are or soon will be, you've probably noticed that I prefer to hit an album's high points right off the bat, saving any criticisms for the later paragraphs of the review. With Never Cry Wolf, however, I feel that it's only fair to you, dear readers, to shine the spotlight on the album's one glaringly obvious deficiency right from the get-go. Simply stated, frontman and Lord Volture founder David Marcelis struggles to deliver the goods. There are a precious few moments when his singing adequately compliments the band's sound, but for the most part he screams and screeches his way through the lyrics. The strongest vocal moments occur when Marcelis is joined by his bandmates during a refrain or gang shout, excepting of course the supporting contributions from Cage's Sean Peck on "Into the Lair of a Lion". Tragically, though, Marcelis needs quite a bit more refinement before he's on par with the music created by his band.

Lord Volture
As glaringly deficient as the vocals are, Never Cry Wolf benefits from a strong guitar sound provided by Leon Hermans and Paul Marcelis. Tracks like "Taiga", "Celestial Bodies Fall", and "I Am King" boast meaty, sometimes menacing riffs that help support comparisons to power metal stalwarts like Jag Panzer and U.D.O.. Lord Volture's riffs are less polished than those from their more established brethren, but on several tracks they provide plenty of punch and even - on "Korgon's Descent" - an exotic flair. The two guitarists are also in the habit of launching some rather impressive twin guitar solos to go along with their infectious riffs, those of "Korgon's Descent" and "Taiga" being most interesting.

Elsewhere on Never Cry Wolf, bassist Simon Geurts exerts his presence with some noticeable leads. His funky little break on "Taiga", just before Hermans and P. Marcelis launch into one of their fine dueling solos, is a nice touch. Drummer Frank Wintermans deserves mention for keeping Never Cry Wolf pumping along at a nice clip, aside from the rather generic acoustic ballad "Brother" of course.

Musically enjoyable, Never Cry Wolf is an album that would make a positive impression on fans of traditionally-inspired heavy metal if only the vocals were on a level with the instrumentation. Until such a time, Lord Volture will likely not share the same success as other old school outfits have.

Track Listing
1Never Cry Wolf7:05
4Celestial Bodies Fall7:26
5Korgon's Descent7:09
6Minutes to Madness4:49
7Necro Nation6:46
8I Am King6:42
9Into the Lair of a Lion8:06
11The Wolf at Your Door7:56
Total Runtime1:11:45

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Friday, November 4, 2011

Review: The Villain Avian Symphony - Blessed Rust Vultures (2011)

The Villain Avian Symphony [Facebook | MySpace]
Blessed Rust Vultures

The Villain Avian Symphony - Blessed Rust Vultures
Blessed Rust Vultures, the debut EP from Vancouver's The Villain Avian Symphony, teeters on the edge of outright sonic chaos for nearly its entire 10-minute run time. A deranged conglomeration of screamcore, punk, and electronica, the EP is overflowing with a visceral intensity that is sure to propel The Villain Avian Symphony directly into the hearts - and earbuds - of the more extreme inhabitants of the metalcore scene.

With a roster comprised of veterans of the Vancouver-ish metal scene, with 3 Inches of Blood guitarist Justin Hagberg and former The Black Halos bass player Denyss McKnight perhaps the most well-known, The Villain Avian Symphony certainly does not lack talent. The almost freestyle structure of the three songs on the EP seems to indicate that the musicians were encouraged to explore creative avenues that were perhaps too avant-garde for their other projects, with quite literally a cacophony of screams, blast beats, and exotic riffs dominating the album.

The Villain Avian Symphony
Nowhere does Blessed Rust Vultures venture closer to pure, unrestrained noise than on "Titanis". The middle track on the EP is, at its foundation, a fairly straightforward example of screamcore. Tremolo riffs and gang shouts punctuate the chaos, however, offsetting the furious beats and throat-ripping shouts. Melody makes a rare appearance in the latter half of the song, with cohesive riffs edging out the bedlam while a distorted guitar solo makes a brief incursion. McKnight's vocal style is dominated by alternating shrieks and guttural howls, though on occasion he adopts a sneeringly traditional punk style. Together with those aforementioned gang choruses, I found McKnight's less extreme vocals to be more meaningful than his feral barks. Then again, I'm probably not a member of The Villain Avian Symphony's target demographic.

For me, the most interesting elements of the band's sound are McKnight's synth contributions. The electronica aspect is subtle, but when moved forward in the mix Blessed Rust Vultures has a bit of a Nine Inch Nails appeal to it. The title track holds a few catchy keyboard moments, but the strong programming presence on "November Lions" makes the EP's final track the most infectious. The contagious underlying melody created by McKnight is a nice contrast to the unadulterated rage of the screaming vocals and pure punk drive.

With Blessed Rust Vultures, The Villain Avian Symphony will undoubtedly spark significant interest within the screamcore community. If that's your scene, don't hesitate to make yourself more familiar with this EP.

Track Listing
1Blessed Rust Vultures3:40
3November Lions3:58
Total Runtime10:57

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Thursday, November 3, 2011

Review: Bleaklow - The Sunless Country (2011)

Bleaklow [Website | Facebook | MySpace]
The Sunless Country

Bleaklow : The Sunless Country
Taking their name from a nearby moor, Sheffield's Bleaklow reflect their somber, sometimes harsh surroundings into their progressively-leaning post-metal sound. Aptly titled The Sunless Country, Bleaklow's latest EP is comprised of a single, 24-minute instrumental track that incorporates throbbing riffs, a minimalist ambiance, and ethereal guitar leads into a well-crafted aural expedition.

The band members recite names like Chicago's Russian Circles and fellow Sheffieldites Naisian (whose Mammalian I reviewed here) when describing their sound, and I agree that such comparisons provide a good starting point for understanding Bleaklow's style. The music of The Sunless Country falls somewhere between Naisian's intimidating aggressiveness and Russian Circles' mellow moodiness, being almost equal parts menacing and reassuring. Driving riffs give way to plucky leads, only to be replaced by sustained, distorted notes as the EP progresses from end to end. Over the course of its run time, The Sunless Country resembles a trek through the band's namesake geography, as the music ascends to windswept progressive crescendos before descending into lush valleys of ethereal sound, only to repeat the process as the band aspires to propel the listener toward the next ridge.

The trio of musicians who are, collectively, Bleaklow exhibit notable skill with their instruments as well as a clear knack for cohesive songwriting. The progressive tendencies on display here are built upon a strong sense of melody, foregoing technical whims in order to retain a logical, and entertaining, flow. Intricate drum fills mesh with swirling leads while the bass guitar plays a strong role in keeping the music interesting. Even though The Sunless Country explores several different moods, the transitions between sections are gradual and never jar the listener from the path they've been set upon.

If post-metal - or post-anything, for that matter - turns your stomach, then The Sunless Country is probably not for you. Fans of the style, though, will certainly find Bleaklow to be an outfit worth investigating. The guys haven't broken any ground with their latest release, but they absolutely understand the elements of good songcraft and have put together a nice addition to the genre.

Track Listing
1The Sunless Country23:58
Total Runtime23:58

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