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.