Friday, May 25, 2012

Review: Shadows Fall - Fire From the Sky

Band: Shadows Fall
Album: Fire From the Sky
Year: 2012
Genre: Melodic Death/Thrash Metal
Country: USA

I have followed the career of Shadows Fall since I first heard The Art of Balance. I then went back and listened to their first two albums which were far more in the realm of melodic death metal and went forwards into the more melodic death and thrash/groove albums. While I wasn't too impressed with The War Within and hardly even touched Threads of Life, Retribution had everything I loved about the band in it. I am happy to say that SF continue in the direction of Retribution with Fire From the Sky.

One of the first big things I noticed was the improvement in use of clean vocals. The majority of the time Matthew Bachand and Jonathan Danais provide the cleans and do a fantastic job. In fact they seem to be given the main focus when it comes to actual singing which I am perfectly ok with. Listen to the strong choruses offered by The Unknown or Save Your Soul. Brian Fair provides his one of a kind hardcore like shouts with the same ferocity that he did on Retribution. Some people seem to not like Brian's style but I quite enjoy it. Its like a brand, as soon as you hear his screams you know exactly who you are listening to.

The guitar duo of Bachand and Donais is just as strong ever. FFtS contains really strong riffing like most of the band's back catalog. Its kind of hard to place the style the band plays based on the guitar riffs played. There are the groovy thrash riffs that are almost always present but the killer guitar harmonies used by most melodic death bands is also heavily used. Its safe to say the guitar parts straddle the line between melodic death and mid paced thrash which makes for a very melody driven sound. The solos are pretty great too. They carry a very 80s type of style to them, they are pretty showy at times though I wouldn't say they go into wank territory.

I love the drumming of Jason Bittner. Listen to the first 20 seconds of Fire From the Sky, or the blasts on Weight of the World. The guy knows what he is doing and the drumming is just as fun to listen to as the riffing. Unfortunately I cannot hear the bass of Paul Romanko. It seems like the bass has sort of been buried somewhere in the mix. As always it would be so much better if it played a stronger part in the music than it usually does.

Fire From the Sky successfully replicates the heaviness of Retribution while including a little more melody than that album. Any fan of the band should be happy with what FFtS offers. There are strong melodies, great soloing, and the cleans sound even better than they have in the past. I've easily given this album more listens than I usually do for a review and its simply because its all around just a really great release.

Score: 9/10
Standout Tracks: Save Your Soul, The Unknown, Fire From the Sky, The Wasteland

Monday, May 21, 2012

Review: Desultory - Counting Our Scars

Band: Desultory
Album: Counting Our Scars
Year: 2010
Genre: Death Metal
Country: Sweden

Desultory actually got their start in the early 90s. The band, hailing from Stockholm, disbanded after 3 albums in the mid 90s but reformed in the later part of the last decade. Counting Our Scars is a lot like Evocation's newer stuff. And by that I mean its death metal with very melodic underpinnings. To say this is pleasing to the ears is an understatement.

So the album is sort of on the short side as far as how many tracks it has, only 9. But the length of the songs makes up for it.  Most are above 4 minutes but below 6. My big only complaint would probably be this too. The songs, while good, at times just feel a little too long for their own good. Still, they are all good. Each song contains strong riffing. That seems to be what the band went for, heavily riff driven death metal. Every song can stand alone and be great, but when you put them together the album as a whole knocks it out of the park. While the songs have a sort of samey kind of sound you won't really be mistaking one for another.

I really like the vocals of Klas Morberg. He has a harsh throaty growl that registers somewhere in the mid range. its not too high but not really low either. It does get a little monotonous I will admit but its not a serious mark against the band or album. Unless I suppose you don't enjoy the sound he goes with, in which case this isn't for you.

The drumming is pretty good as well. There are blast beats used sparingly, but just enough that you know Thomas Johnson means business. But when they are used they are put to good use. And another cool thing? You can hear Johan Bohlin's bass through the whole album! So happy about this. It would be cool if he were given a little more leeway and didn't just follow the guitars but these days with this kind of music the bass almost seems to be an afterthought so I'm just glad I can hear it.

Counting Our Scars offers solid death metal chock full of melody. You can put this up there with other releases in this growing phenomena in the world of death metal like Those Once Loyal (Bolt Thrower), Apocalypse (Evocation) and even last years On Divine Winds by Hail of Bullets. You get the punchy meaty riffs of death metal with the sweetness of catchy riffing. I really like the style the band uses on COS and it is something I see myself listening to a lot in the future. It could easily be a gateway album for those who find other stuff just a little too harsh for their ears. I'll be waiting impatiently to see what Desultory comes up with next.

Score: 8.5/10
Standout Tracks: Leeching Life, Counting Our Scars, In A Cage

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Review: Black Breath - Sentenced To Life

Band: Black Breath
Album: Sentenced To Life
Year: 2012
Genre: Death Metal/Hardcore Punk
Country: USA

In 2010 Black Breath released Heavy Breathing, and album that to this day is still kicking my ass. I heard a track on a best of 2010 podcast by the Requiem Metal Podcast fellas and sought out this band. Once I got my hands on that album it quickly became my favorite release of the year. Well the guys (who happen to be from my neck of the woods) are back with their new release, Sentenced To Life.

What do we get with Sentenced To Life? BB follows the the same template laid down by Heavy Breathing, with a tweak or two that come off as positives. The band still plays a genre bending form of death metal and hardcore punk. Make no mistake, this is NOT deathcore as you know it. This is old school swedish death with a punky/hardcore edge to it and a bit of thrash for good measure.

The guitars have that warm fuzzy chainsaw guitar tone so well known as a staple of the Stockholm bands. This continues to be one of the best imitations of the Sunlight Studios guitar tone I have heard. The production works in synergy to create a very heavy sound that compliments the death metal style the band plays in. Its crunchy, fuzzy, and just plain nasty sounding.

One of the tweaks I mentioned before was an improvement in the drumming. Check out Of Flesh for some sweet blast beats, which I don't believe were very present in the last album. Even still a further improvement would be to add more blast beats. But definitely keep it in moderation, too many bands these days abuse the hell out of blasts. I have no complaints about the drumming overall, the snare has a nice bite to it and the double bass thumps along perfectly. And as for vocals? Neil McAdams kills it again with his hardcore screams. These aren't your wussy hardcore vocals you would expect these days, these are throat shredding screams.

What I love most is the length of the songs. BB seems to have found the perfect general length for songs. Over half of the songs on the album don't make it past the 3 minute mark. These are short bursts of aggression that are headbangable to the max. I mean they are so catchy its almost sickening. Another note would be the placement of a couple songs. Endless Corpse is a much slower song than most on the album and for much of the track it stays in the realm of doom. Following that as almost a brutal contrast is the blistering Mother Abyss that just rockets away with its incredible riffs.

I'm so pleased with Sentenced To Life and Black Breath should give themselves a pat on the back for another job well done. Two incredible albums in a row, no sophomore slump for them. STL has aggression, the catchy factor, the heavy production, and is actually fun to listen to. If this band didn't catch your attention with Heavy Breathing then Sentenced To Life should be front and center for any fans of old school death metal. They have found their niche and continue to perfect their sound.

Score: 9/10
Standout Tracks: Feast of the Damned, Home of the Grave, Mother Abyss

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Review: Ghoul - Transmission Zero

Band: Ghoul
Album: Transmission Zero
Year: 2011
Genre: Death/Thrash Metal
Country: USA

I became a fan of Ghoul after first being introduced to Impaled. My first taste of these chums from Creepsylvania was through their third album Splatterthrash. What really caught my attention was how the band was obviously having fun both lyrically and musically. I mean dressing up as monsters and writing songs that could easily made into campy horror films, whats not fun about that? Another thing was this sort of surfer sounding type of music they liked to add to their songs. It was refreshing for me at the time. Transmission Zero tries to play at the same gimmicks Ghoul are known for, but this time it just doesn't seem to work, at least not fully.

The core elements of what makes Ghoul an enjoyable band to listen to are still there. You have the fun gang shouts in Off With Their Heads and Brain Jerk, the thrashy goodness of Bloodfeast, and the surfer themes of Death In the Swamp. But they feel kind of tired. Perhaps the gimmick is all used up, but it no longer has the same effect that it first did. In fact it might be that they have stuck so closely to the formula they laid out previously that TZ lacks anything real interesting or exciting.

Outside of that the production just bugs the hell out of me. The guitars sound very thin and have no bite to them. The solos are actually pretty vibrant (listen to The Mask of Voodoo), so there are no complaints there. But there is no heavy feeling in the guitars. In fact for the most part I want to say it sounds as if the band recorded the album in a cardboard box. It just sounds muddy and this emasculated of any strength.

I am still a fan of the vocals. There are two styles used the majority of the time. One is a higher pitched gravely snarl that is very reminiscent of Jeff Walker from Carcass. The other is a lower death growl that is around the norm for the genre. The gang shouts are sort of a highlight, they are fun and really compliment the bouncy melody driven style the band seems to have been going for. Then there are the vocals that seem to be driven through effects programs to give them an even further garbled deeper tone that pepper the album throughout.

Like I said before most of the material is melody driven. The album is great if you want short catchy bursts of music you can play in the background and bob your head to. In fact I've used it for background music while playing video games a few times and it seems that's when its at its best. Well the songs are short with the exception of Morning of the Mezmetron. This one comes in out of left field at a bit over 8 minutes long and has a much slower doomy pace to it. Its kind of different and seems to be more about telling a story lyrically then being very musically interesting.

I was looking forwards to the next release by Ghoul but have to say Transmission Zero didnt quite live up to my expectations. The band offers short mid-paced death/thrash with heaps of melody. But it comes of as tired and gives me the "been there done that" mentality while giving it a listen. Still it is a half decent album and if you enjoy what Ghoul has had to offer in the past its likely you might enjoy TZ. But I think I will stick to Splatterthrash, and would suggest that to anyone who is looking for fun catchy death/thrash.

Score: 6/10
Standout Tracks: Off With Their Heads, Blood Feast