Thursday, September 16, 2010

Beyond Mind-The Wrath of the Dead Tongue-76%

This is really strange. Seriously, am I tripping on something? Hailing all the way from New Zealand, Beyond Mind plays one of the most bizarre styles of black metal I've ever heard, with influences spanning from doom metal to "sick" black metal, and it shows. This vast number of influences makes for an odd style of music, but this doesn't necessarily make it good. "The Wrath of the Dead Tongue" will make the listener scratch his head with every listen, which is sometimes a good thing. However, there are quite a few flaws with this release; they don't make the album unlistenable, but they do make for a very difficult listening experience.

First of all, the lyrics are simply stunning for an unsigned band. NX throws all his emotions into the writing, and it shows. With lines that would make a grown man cry, this is easily the highest point of the album. One of the best examples of this is in the song "Caressed By Cold", where NX inscribes in the chilling wastes of ice, "Inside those walls of ice, whispers unheard. Footsteps of mine, carving new worlds. Stumbling in all, remains of the old." Magnificent. The vocals take these lyrics to a whole new level, as NX shrieks and screams his way through the cold mists of the morning, surrounding himself in an atmosphere of ear-splitting tracheal mayhem. The reverb on his vocals creates the impression that he's recording them in an icy cold basement of some sort, and it works well.

The guitars are another thing entirely. They have a nice, crisp tone, without being overly shrill (like raw black metal) or thick enough that it wouldn't fit the music (Dimmu Borgir). The riffing is mainly based around a central core of minor riffing, creating a hopeless and despairing atmosphere. My main praise for these 2 men is that they know how to use the reverb. They have just enough on the guitars that it forges an atmosphere worthy of hell, yet it does not sound like a mess of sound. With the acoustic guitar overtones, NX uses a fingerpicked style that is rather beautiful...that is, until the distorted guitars kick in again, and plunge the listener back into the icy worlds of depression and despair.

The bass is slightly audible. This was surprising to me, because most black metal bands either have no bass, or make the bass completely in the background. Nevertheless, the unmistakable thunk of the bass is there, and it adds to the atmosphere. The bass lines mostly follow the guitars, though there are a few parts where the bass shines more than normal. Props to Geyron for that.

Finally, the drums. Excellent job of programming by NX. Instead of the standard continuous blasts that we metalheads have come to know and love (err, should that be hate?) in black metal, NX forms the basis of his soundscape here. Mainly incorporating fast double bass lines or plodding doom metal drums, the echoey sound of the toms and the hard hitting snare draw the listener in like only a few micing jobs I've ever heard can do. "Caressed..." is most certainly the best track on the album for drums, with its hypnotizing kick pattern and roomy cymbal sound. Another high point on the album is the drums, for sure.

Now, with all these good parts, I'm sure the reader is asking, "But Symphonyxfan, why did you rate this album 76?" Well, I'm going to tell you, reader, and it may shock you to know that I rated this album as I did for one main reason: consistency. While songs like "Caressed By Cold" and "Descent" are very alike in genre (blackened doom), the rest of the EP is not so. "The Spiral of Withering" is influenced by black metal and drone, apparently. "Children of Ashes" has a very post-rock tone to it, along with its black metal roots. And with "Departure", the riffing has all been done before, and will make the listen reach for the skip button. Another complaint of mine is song length. Every song on this album, minus the intro and outro, is over 8 minutes long. They are all very repetitious, and not in a good way. There are no catchy choruses, no good hooks, and no extremely memorable moments.

In summary, the writing overall on this album is good. It's brutal and heavy and different, and it delivers. However, it could stand to be refined a good deal. Hopefully, with the next album, Beyond Mind will come back with a new slab of black metal that contains more memorable moments instead of straight up brutality all the way through.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Ring of Scars-Trust-82%

Ring of Scars is an interesting band. They combine elements of death metal, industrial, and hardcore, and stunningly, they actually do a good job with it. I ran across them on Myspace, where they had an offer up to get a free copy of their demo song, Trust. I took up on this offer, and when I popped the song on, I was pleasantly surprised by the wall of sound coming out of my speakers.

The song starts with a soft guitar riff, and by soft, I don't mean clean or lightly distorted, just quiet. After this, the same riff comes back full force, backed by thundering drums and roaring vocals. Unfortunately, the drums are either highly triggered or programmed, and sound a bit unrealistic. The guitars have a nice crunch to them without going Slayer on our ass, and are distorted enough to satisfy the die-hard death metal fanatics. The vocals are a combination of Tommy Vext from Divine Heresy and a little bit of Corey Taylor from Slipknot, but only in the chorus, which is quite melodic. After another verse/chorus of the same type, along comes a breakdown, not as in CHUG CHUG deathcore, but a clean, melodic break. The vocals turn to soft, lilting singing, wrapped in a chorus/echo effect. But after 30 seconds of dreamy clean guitars and vocals, a face-melting riff interrupts the beauty, doubling the speed of the previous distorted riffs. This in turn leads to the end of the song.

Now for the negative aspects of the song.
1. Drums-the programmed feel of and the somewhat dry tone brings the song down.
2. Lyrical content-the singer seems to feel like yelling/screaming "fuck!" 10 times in a song makes good lyrics.
3. Vocals in the chorus-the Slipknot-style forced singing is too reminiscent of nu-metal.

Overall, it's a good start for their next album. I'll pick it up, if not just to hear the re-master of this song.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Shadows Fall-King of Nothing-92%

I'm not going to lie, I love Shadows Fall and their unique style of thrash/metalcore. And with this new single, they have gone above and beyond their previous works, bringing together a nice cocktail of speed, brutality, and hair raising musicianship.

Brian Fair doesn't do a whole lot of experimenting with his vocals, as usual, but why fix something that isn't broken? He switches between his typical harsh singing and throaty thrash vocals. Nothing really special there...until you hit the chorus. Guest vocalist Randy Blythe kicks the whole song into a much higher gear with his easily recognizable trademark growls.

The guitars end up being top notch for Shadows Fall. Unlike the last couple of albums, Bachand and Donais actually created some new riffs for this album, and they do a very good job of keeping the listener interested with their machine gun riffs and fast yet technical solos. The most noteworthy bit happens, again, during the chorus, where Donais tremolo picks a nice high solo that any self respecting metal head will bang their head to.

There is not very much to say about the bass. It's there, I'm sure, but it isn't very audible, instead just adding to the brutality and atmosphere.

And lastly, the drums. Jason Bittner has always been one of the fastest and most technical drummers in world, but here, he takes it one step further. His double bass thunders through the whole song, and his fills emphasize his skill and creativity.

Here's how things add up.

Overall score-92. Very worth a listen if not a buy.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Fantasy Opus-Beyond Eternity-95%

This has to be one of my favorite reviews of all time, no joke. Fantasy Opus, a power/heavy metal band from Portugal, of all places, has managed to put out an album that tops all power metal albums in my collection, including Hammerfall's Crimson Thunder and all of Firewind's albums. The band consists of two guitarist, a dedicated lead vocalist, a bassist and a drummer, and they work together quite well, making this album epic, catchy, and amazing on so many different levels.

Beyond Eternity is comprised of 8 songs, four of them being separate songs, while the last four make up one big song called "The Warrior's Call". Fantasy Opus thunders out of the gates with "Mystic Messenger", a song which seems to have thrash influences in it. The drummer is extremely talented, and the double bass blazes through your ears until the end of the song. The guitarists are also very talented, and solos are plentiful. But hold on. I can hear you already, some of you are screaming, "AHHH! YNGWIE-MALMSTEEN-WANKER-CLONES!" This is not the case. Claudio and Marcus both pick and choose their solos wisely, and the result is a mature playing style that defies the stereotype of most power metal. Now here is the real shocker: the bass is clearly audible! Not only that, he is quite good. The vocals are just epic. The only person I can compare him to is Bruce Dickinson from Iron Maiden, but only because of his range. Pedro Arroja's voice soars into operatic high notes, and his midrange vocals pack quite a punch too. On this song, it's truly hard not to sing along to the chorus.

Next up is "The Sacred Trilogy". Fantasy Opus moves away from their thrashy influences on this song, going with a more power/prog sound. The double kicks are once again stunning, and the beginning riff is ever so catchy. This is probably my least favorite track on the CD, however, only because the riffing in this song is so similar to the next song, "Path of Destiny". That being said, "The Sacred Trilogy" and "Path of Destiny" are very worth a listen, if only to hear Arroja's wonderful operatic voice and the very catchy riffing.

The final song before the four part epic is "Higher State of Mind", which is the ballad on this CD. This is one of two songs on the CD to actually beat "Mystic Messenger" in overall quality. Starting off with an acoustic guitar/piano dual, the vocals shine greatly on this song, mainly because they are complemented by the keys and acoustic guitar. The song is truly beautiful, something I don't normally say about most bands. Props right there to Fantasy Opus, good job guys.

And finally, "Warrior's Call", the so called epic of the CD. It is divided into four parts: "Chapter I-The Lament", "Chapter II-The Warrior's Call", "Chapter III-The Gathering-The Battle-Liberation", and "Chapter IV-The New Dawn". Chapter I starts out with a soft piano solo complemented by orchestration and a twelve string (as far as I could tell) acoustic guitar/six string nylon guitar. About halfway through, however, the power metal inside them kicks in, and they rise to new heights of soloing madness. The song flows straight into Chapter II, which is probably the fastest song here, being close to or over 200 BPM. The song is a host to a very nice solo, arguably the best on the CD. And then, the grand opus (pardon the pun) of Beyond Eternity, Chapter III. Clocking in at 9:37, this masterpiece holds quite a few gems. The bass has a very large part in the song, the soloing is tied with the previous song for quality, and the beginning intro is in a different class in and of itself. Lastly, Chapter IV, a very interesting song in my opinion. The first 15-20 seconds or so are done a capella (for the non-music buffs, a capella means without music). The rest of the song is done in a fast, almost thrashy style.

Overall, this album is AMAZING. In the days ahead, the metal world is sure to be graced with a more mature, refined, and better than ever Fantasy Opus.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

GraveSide Service-Masters of Lunacy-82%

Allow me to paint a picture in your mind. It's a dark, stormy night. Thunderclaps deafen you as you run through the woods. A killer chases you, the knife in his left hand still glistening with blood from the flesh wound he had managed to give you. Then...the ominous music starts. This is GraveSideService. Consisting of only piano/synth, drums, and vocals, this black/neo-classical metal band hails from Rhode Island, and their unique style envelopes the listener and transports them to the situation I described. However, there are some flaws to this work, and I will point them out, as well as the high points, in this review.

The first thing you will notice is that the piano player not only takes lead, but he is an astounding virtuoso. He glides up and down the keys like no one's business. The tone of the piano varies from normal grand piano sound to strange sounds such as a saw wave tone (think techno leads). He takes the place of a lead guitarist, who left before the recording. But the fact that this is the main instrument you hear leaves a gap, leaves you wanting something. But mainly, the keys sound excellent.

As I said before, there are no guitars. The guitarist apparently left before the recording of this record, as a result of infighting I believe. Unfortunately, or at least as far as I could tell, there is no bass guitar either. This is a pity, because it takes away from the brutality...though, in retrospect, black metal isn't really known for it's brutality, as much as it is the atmosphere.

Speaking of the atmosphere, this album has one of the greatest atmospheres I have ever run across. Between the piano leads, the shrieked and growled vocals, the thundering drums, and the windy, often stormy background noise, it feels like the devil incarnate has come again and taken over your stereo system.

The drums are another category in and of themselves. The quality is excellent. Yes, all you diehard black metal fans, they are triggered. Yes, they are fast. But don't think Dimmu Borgir. They have a lot of variety, going from standard rock beats to blisteringly fast double kicks to blast beats. The only gripe I have about them is certain fills don't exactly fit the song. Overall, they are very good.

And last, but most certainly not least, the vocals. I have never been a fan of the raw, harsh, almost speaking black metal type vocals. But these are different. The vocalist uses three distinct styles of vocals: harsh shrieks, harsh growls, and clean vocals. My main annoyance is the high shrieks. They often come in at times when they aren't needed, but the low point of them is the song "Devil Made Me Do It". He shrieks over and over on top of a beat "the devil made me do it!", sounding more silly and irritating than serious. The growls are, truely, very good, and the clean vocals are really evil sounding, but in a good way.

Overall, if you are a fan of avant-garde music, music that crosses boundaries never before crossed, you should pick this up. I am anxiously awaiting their new release, The Pope's Pears, and I believe they will be a more mature and heavier GraveSide Service than ever before.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Uneven-Vrzino Kolo-84%

Well well well, what do we have here? A metal band from the lonely wastes of Serbia? It boggles the mind! Uneven thunders into the well trodden genre of progressive metal, and they actually succeed, without being Dream Theater clones. No, far from copying the prog masters, they blaze their own path, utilizing strange time signatures and blistering guitars in the process. However, they do have their weak points as well. As this is such a short EP, I will do a track by track review.

First off, the title track, Vrzino Kolo. The guitars are quite fast and heavy, painting a brutal landscape on the listener's ears. That aside, the riffs are actually a bit happy sounding, instead of the normal dark sound. The drums are also quite good on this track, as he plays in some odd time signatures (I believe this one was 7/8?). And here comes the real shocker...the bass is audible! He is actually good, and doesn't just play the same thing as the guitars, instead making his own patterns that go well with the music. This track is an instrumental, so there are no vocals yet.

The second track, entitled "Nights In The Club" is a bit weird. The lyrics are all about clubbing, which I would never expect in a metal record. That being said, this song is more brutal than the last, with the guitars using rapid tremolo picking, and the drums following along on the double kick drums. The bassist, instead of doing his own thing, decided to lower his volume and just add to the brutality and heaviness, which I did not like. But my main gripe is the vocals. Blehhhh. He's really not that good of a singer, and some harsh vocals a la black metal would work better here. Overall a pretty good song though.

Here is the "Angel of Death" of this EP, the chaos invoker, the controversy causing song. USSR. This is the heaviest song on the record, and my personal favorite. It starts off with some sound bites from various USSR and UN transmissions about the Berlin Wall and the Nuclear Weapons Treaty. Then, Uneven roars into the verse with a heavy as lead riff with a pinch harmonic for good measure. The drummer does some very talented double kick rolls and patterns, while the guitars are perfectly synchronized, and the bass is audible again. The best segment is at the end, where they have a speed breakdown with a very talented solo. My only gripe is the song is too long and a bit repetitive. But, still good overall.

Next up is probably the worst track on the EP, Uneven. While it does have a pretty catchy riff, it repeats. Over and over and over. The chorus is quite irritating too, with the line "Round round round, what's that sound?" and such. However, what redeems this song is the solo. The fastest one on the album, it brings this song back from the pits of hell and makes it bearable.

And lastly, Fire In The Hole. Thank goodness, this song is much better than the last. It's quite funny, talking about weed and drinking in the beginning. The guitars are notible, they have some good riffs. The bass has decided to be audible again. And the vocals are better in this song than any other track on the album. Overall good.

If you like progressive metal, pick this album up. It's heavy and it has generally good riffing. Many metal fans will brush this off because of the vocals, but if you can get past those, it's quite a good piece of musicianship.