Thursday, March 29, 2012

Sigh - In Somniphobia (2012)

Compared with previous albums, In Somniphobia is Sigh’s most adventurous record to date, piling layer-upon-layer of musical intricacy into a small package. Japan’s most eccentric have always been about mishmashing various musical genres, but their latest release takes the practice to an extreme and puts previous efforts to shame. Borrowing heavily from 2001’s Imaginary Sonicscape, In Somniphobia blends thrash, black, and heavy metal, all while being covered in a myriad of influences culled from the world’s musical palette.

Sigh present themselves as part of the cultured—the musicians that have studied every nook and cranny of the creative world with dreams of venturing into the bizarre realms of music. As an example, In Somniphobia fuses Middle Eastern melodies with flamenco guitars, with saxophone or orchestral-centered passages in tow. Classically-influenced and Hammond organ-sounding keyboards resonate for much of the record, too, making the music decidedly experimental. While this isn't a surprise for a band like Sigh, this equates to their most musically dense album to date, even more so than previous efforts like Scenes from Hell, which already touted an impressive resume of influences.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Sigh - Gallows Gallery (2005)

The Sigh many are familiar with are of the most eclectic bands in the business, combining various styles of music in an effort to produce something new. While metal is no stranger to taking other genres under its wing, Sigh rewrite the rulebook that was supposedly set in stone and, in the process, create their own style: avant-garde metal. The band were not always like this, however, and began as a black metal band, incorporating various influences as the members searched for an identity unlike any other. Sigh’s sixth record, Gallows Gallery, builds upon what Imaginary Sonicscape started--Iron Maiden-esque harmonized guitar riffs, psychedelics, and infectious melodies--but drops the raspy vocals black metal is known for.

While Gallows Gallery discards Mirai Kawashima’s scratchy screams in favor of clean vocals, the most extreme change is that of a thin and lifeless production. Though it does nothing to accentuate the brilliant guitar work and causes the drums to sound rather hollow, it doesn’t make the album any less enjoyable and begs listeners to dig deeper to find the hidden treasures among its layers. Each spin reveals something new--which is not surprising considering later Sigh records--and while it does seem relatively complex, it pales in comparison to more recent releases. 

Monday, March 26, 2012

Shadowstrike Push Start (2012)

Push Start glorifies the past.
The first thing that will grab you with Shadowstrike's music is the theme. While the band won't win any awards for being particularly unique, the central motif that revolves around each song is a novelty that many acts don't think to toy with: classic Nintendo games. The act's first EP, Push Start, is a blend of time-tested aesthetics and over-the-top theatrics that power metal is known for, but with gaming at the forefront of the banter. Without the tasteful cheesiness, however--and the cheese is hot, melted, and dripping--they wouldn't have quite the same charm, either.

Shadowstrike tag themselves as "Long Island's Most Epic Band" and, despite being a bold claim, it's fitting for their music. Video games and metal simply wouldn't work without any epicness, the kind that envisions a knight coaxing a dragon from its lair for a battle, or a plumber fending off a spiked turtle that plans to kidnap the princess. Even the cover's 8-bit inspired imagery hints at what's hiding underneath, which is something not often said of album art.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

SADUS

I'll be honest here. I'm not really feeling the whole post thing tonight because I've been a bit under the weather. I was just spinning Sadus' Swallowed in Black, which is a fantastic slab of technical thrash, and of course I'm going suggest that you check it out because of my extremely fond memories with the record. We'll get back to the regular reviewing rotation and occasional off the beaten track posts tomorrow. Until then, I bid thee adieu.

-TMA

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Ghost - Opus Eponymous (2010)

Countless people write Ghost off as a gimmick--unrightfully so, I might add--because they're concentrating too much on the band's identity/appearance and not enough on the music. Let's be clear here: these Swedes aren't the glam rock popular in the eighties that mostly relied on appearance over musical integrity. Ghost certainly isn't Poison.

Instead, it's safe to say that the band glorifies much of what was great about seventies rock and hard rock: hammond organ lines, memorable guitar riffs, and the occasional pop-laced chorus hook. Deep Purple, Blue Oyster Cult, and Uriah Heep all pitch in to form Ghost's core sound, but with a dash of Mercyful Fate thrown into the pot for good measure. Thoughtful Satanic imagery and mysticism had to come from somewhere, and Mercyful Fate were the most logical place to pick from.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Newk - Heavy Life (2010)

After being mighty impressed with Newk's previous album, Glorious Warrior, which gathered something in the B range from me in terms of how good I thought it was, I concluded it was time for me to hunt down Heavy Life, the group's latest album, released in 2010. The record isn't much different than Newk's previous efforts, but it boasts an improved production, as well as slightly better songwriting. The chorus hooks are exactly what I've come to love and expect from the band, but I can't help but feel some of these tracks were left over from the previous writing sessions. It's true what they say: a band's material will always sound similar to what came before because it's the same group composing the music. However, in Newk's case, it's not specifically a rehash, but rather a different take on their patented formula.

I'll say this much: It was an agonizing wait for Heavy Life to travel across the sea from South Korea to my doorstep in the United States. For months, I had been enjoying what appears to be the lead single from the album, "We Need," through its music video, but I was never able to find a place to purchase the album until I finally took the plunge on Amazon where a record store in the band's home country was offering worldwide shipping. Even though I paid somewhat of a hefty sum when compared with a normal CD, it was worth every cent I threw down on virtual counter for it.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Short Break

Posting will be on a short hiatus until Friday because I'm swamped with exams. Expect something cool by the time I start things back up.

-TMA

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Check Out: Lunarsea

Thanks to a friend from Sweden, I had the fortune of hitting it big with Lunarsea who take a slightly more technical riffing approach to melodic death metal, but retain supreme catchiness. My introduction was with "The Apostate," which is the pinnacle of the sound, and I imagine once you hear it, you won't be able to get it out of your head. The band hails from Rome--interesting because I don't know many acts from the area, but I'm fixing to change that based on what Lunarsea brings to the table.

-TMA

Check Out: Plasmajet


As I continue my travels through the Japanese metal scene---which is quite good I may add--I decided I'd bring Plasmajet your way, a band that presumably had something good up their sleeves, but never had the chance to realize the potential. The act have been broken up for at least four years now, and I'll tell you I'm a little disappointed because, if their EP This Moment was any indication of what was going to come next, we're missing potentially great music. It's not hard to describe their sound, which is stylistically similar to many European melodic death metal bands, but they had a smattering of electronic influences that quietly crept into the music, creating a nice atmosphere change in the overall mood. Nothing big, mind you, but something different from the norm and very listenable.

I can't speak for anything except This Moment, but the majority of the work on the EP is memorable, a must for bands in this particular subgenre because melodic death metal relies heavily on harmonized riffs and leads. The vocals are a tad weak, but nothing to complain about; I'm normally accustomed to a deeper growl regardless of the kind of death metal I'm listening to, but Plasmajet's vocalist still does a good job of checking all the right boxes. Most impressive, however, is the songwriting. I find the songs up there with the best--you'll have them them in your head for days. "Doom's Eye" introduced me to the band, and I reckon it's a good place for you to start, too.

-TMA

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Hexa Mera - Descent into Decay (2011)

Sloppy, yet inspired, Hexa Mera hurl themselves across Brussels and out into the greater Europe area. The band are relatively young, forming only two years ago, but strive to make it big beginning with their EP entitled Descent into Decay.  I'm slightly lukewarm on the release, however, mostly due to the vocals, clumsy musicianship, and awkward song writing. Peculiar start-stop sections and unrefined transitioning are my main compalints, but there seems to be a burning passion for what Hexa Mera, despite the setbacks. Like a lot of young bands, I think these metallers have some degree of potential, but they need to learn how to harness their eagerness and control the reigns before arranging a song.

What I really appreciate about the record is its honest production values and guitar rawness. Drums are relatively polished in comparison to the mixing on the guitar, but that doesn't detract from the EP's overall presentation and only reminds you that this is a demo-like release. Vocals are slightly recessed and balance nicely with the instruments.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

New Meshuggah Track: "Break Those Bones Whose Sinews Gave it Motion"

Okay, yeah, I've never liked Meshuggah much because their music plods, but I still think posting the new track is worthwhile no matter how late I may be to the party. "Break Those Bones Whose Sinews Gave it Motion" was intentionally leaked early last month, and it appears to have gotten a decent response from everyone besides myself. But you shouldn't be phased just because I find Meshuggah dull. Most people will find something redeeming about them. My bad for posting it so late!

-TMA



Monday, March 5, 2012

Optic - Drown the Earth (2011)

Optic are neat little five-piece progressive metal band from Long Island, New York. The group's Drown the Earth EP hit the metal scene late last year and shows promise for a rookie act--which is surprising because I normally consider many fledgling progressive bands to have underdeveloped and lacking songwriting finesse.

Comparable to bigger acts like as Dream Theater, Optic specialize in including many different influences, like a blackened feeling that manifests itself in the vocals of the first track "Drown the Earth." Aside from the harsh vocals, the song is typical progressive metal--albeit exceptionally catchy and memorable--and highly reminiscent of the band's forefathers. The second cut, "Moment of Impact," is a tight instrumental and about half the length of the first track and showcases instrumental chops.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Recent Hauls Part Eight

Oh, yes. This stash is mostly made up of records I've been wanting to get my hands on for some time now. The Vader obsession continues with The Ultimate Incantation and Impressions in Blood, bringing the collection to four albums. I seriously think Vader might be my favorite band right now, and if they decide they are going to hit up the USA on tour for Welcome to the Morbid Reich, I'd probably find a way to get tickets short of selling one of my organs. As for Sigh, I mostly grabbed Scenes from Hell because the other two albums I own are flawless and purely avant-garde in nature. I'm never joking around when I say some of the best metal in the world comes from Japan. And lastly, Goatwhore's newest was purchased on a random whim based on gogmagogical's latest review, as well as A Haunting Curse's status as the first death metalish album I bought on my own. 2006 seems like it was so long ago...

1. Scenes from Hell is no different than Sigh's previous albums, in terms of concept. I reckon for most people, the band's music will be too odd upon first listen and may slightly sour them on Sigh--the mix and match of genres is what some might call an acquired taste and suitably eclectic to accomplish the desired goal of constructing a new take on metal.

Mirai and company are among the Einsteins of our favorite music, which, in my eyes, is an accomplishment in and of itself, and I remain psyched for each new Sigh release I'm able to get my hands on. Scenes from Hell is probably one of the most musically over-the-top albums I've added to my growing collection, and while the production does tend to mask many of the parts, you discover something new every time you spin the record.

2. I'll fully admit that Goatwhore's name is terrible. I've firmly held that opinion since 2006 when I stumbled upon their music on XM satellite radio, but that's just it: I let the music do the talking instead of a stupid, little moniker. So far, I'm enjoying Blood for the Master immensely, as there is a thumb more black metal than the last one. I particularly like the inclusion of black metal aesthetics mashed with thrash and death metal elements.

It would be appropriate to label Goatwhore and this release blackened death/thrash metal because the band certainly aren't black metal in its purest form. Despite Goatwhore's rising popularity, they've stayed true to their roots and ripened with age. Elitists can walk the plank; their princess is clearly in a different castle.

3. This is exactly what I expected because Vader are one of the most consistent in the business. Impressions in Blood is the same in terms of quality, but with each track taking a slightly different approach to Peter's formula. I'd argue that if you've heard any of the band's material, you'll have an idea of what this is going to sound like, which involves impressive musicianship, catchy song structuring, and blazing drumming. If anything, give "Helleluyah!!! (God Is Dead)" a listen because it's among the most memorable death metal you'll ever hear. Too bad about the horrid cover art.

3. Dropping during the golden age of death metal, The Ultimate Incantation is Vader's first full-length. The sound is still recognizable as Vader, but it's rawer and primitive when compared with the band's later releases. Peter's vocals are much deeper than they are today, reaching terribly low into the realms of growling, and the music is still the same thrashy death metal madness I've come to love the band for. The Ultimate Incantation is somewhat atmospheric when compared to later albums, which I find myself often longing for when listening to Vader over and over and over as I'm known to do. Sterile productions are largely the culprit. Death metal of the early period always had a certain attitude surrounding it that captured the enthusiasm and charisma radiating from the young subgenre.

-TMA

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Loudness - Thunder in the East (1985)

As with any truly fun review, I can't afford not to begin with a nostalgic, sappy moment that relates to the band or album. Before I grabbed Loudness's famed Thunder in the East, I knew who the band were and had even had heard a song here and there, but I was never that familiar with their output. They were, after all, the very first metal from Japan to gain worldwide notoriety and an American record deal--certainly no small feat--so I always slapped myself for not getting into them sooner. But that was years ago. I ended up buying Thunder in the East from a music store located in Denver, Colorado based for the fact that I was supposed to have something by them. You know those albums you pass by in the record store and realize they're a staple in nearly in every metalhead's collection? Yep, those.

That brings me to their renowned Thunder in the East, the album that effectively broke them from their home turf and catapulted them across the globe. The more I think about it, the more I praise the Metal Gods for letting them leave Japan because a good portion of Japanese music stays hidden in the country. I digress, however, because that isn't the point. The point, here, is Loudness's fantastic music.