Thursday, December 28, 2017

Music Review #154:
Tankist
Unhuman
2017
independent









Tankist came into the fray a few years back with little more than a "rage against" attitude and a deep-seated love for thrash acts of yore. Though this motivation alone has rarely done your average garage band favors, it combined with the talents of this Estonian group to make promise back in 2015 with their EP Be Offended. The obvious Megadeth influence combined with a decently virtuous technicality to their songwriting made them at least stand out from the hordes of modern thrash bands drenched in glittery production and faux-aggression.

Now that two years have passed in the wake of this EP and Tankist have had definite time to grow, how exactly do they fare with the daunting task of a full length LP? Not bad, turns out.  There's a definite upspike in production quality, following in the footsteps of the slew of standalone singles the band put out last year. The technical riffage is still present on many of the songs, such as 'The Plastic Age' and 'I Know What You Are!', that see Unhuman not necessarily ascending to the insanity that was Vektor's Terminal Redux, but definitely as an album with a certain level of prowess. It can't be denied that, as a mega-fan of Atheist, technicality is disavowed by any means. Similarly, things like the Voivod influence in Kevin Marks' voice, the Anvil-esque drum sound of Simo Atso, the aforementioned Megadeth sound (present mainly in many of the riffs), and other light nods to what are perhaps Tankists' influencers give the album a sort of warmness and appeal to any even slightly well-versed thrash metal fan.

Tankist aren't perfect legends though, as they do have some issues. While Unhuman might contain rather fresh ideas for the thrash metal scene, it also showcases some of the most laughably cliched ideas in thrash's history. For instance, 'Conveyor Care' does little in the way of interesting the listener not only by having a weak bass sound, but also by having a very lackluster middle section of a simple thrash 4/4 backing a weak string of riffs. Also at times Tankist can seem a bit too entrenched in their influences, bringing out the cheese of 80's metal with things like the silly "I ain't done with you yet!" voice clip at the end of 'I Know What You Are!', and similarly the occasional laughable excitement in Marks' vocals. I mean, I'm glad the dude's having fun, but sometimes it definitely ruins the mood.

However for such an obscure group as Tankist, I can readily admit how much taste these guys have for their craft. Unhuman is no rampaging monster, but it does have quite the bark nonetheless. In all, I believe with the burgeoning talents these Estonians possess, they definitely have the capability to deliver some "fucking fist-in-the-face" songs to me in the future, cause they weren't too far off this time around.

This review was requested by the band. You can request a review at fryingpanmedia@gmail.com. I'll  try to get back as soon as I can!
2017 - Frying Pan Media & Thatcher 
Have a nice day! 

Monday, December 25, 2017

Music Review #153:
WHORES
Ruiner (EP)
2011
independent







In 2016, VICE's Noisey proclaimed Atlanta's WHORES to be the "new kings of noise rock", a title that the band happily flaunts at the forefront of their self-description. Such a description though is very readily able to raise any self-respecting person's eyebrows, as the validity of it could very well be egregious at best. 

Whores, or bluntly WHORES., have some credit that is needed to be given, credit that does give some respectability to Noisey's honeyed praise. The band piggybacked off of a very loyal fan-base that ate up their EPs and immense live shows, eventually gaining enough underground traction to score a debut LP in October of 2016. This is, undoubtedly, an opportunity any group of poor saps wanting to make a mark with their music would dream for. The question then remains, I suppose- what made Whores as lucky as they are? What lit the fuse, started the boulder rolling, oiled the machine, and kick-started their career with any other stupid analogy? For the answer, we'll have to go back to the beginning.

Ruiner was the first EP ever delivered by Whores, and was the first peep from the studio to be served to a public forum. Ruiner, with a cover of a sleek .45 with the band's title in brash, unrelenting capitals and a title that invokes destruction, is bound to make an impact even before the music starts. But as the music starts, you quickly discern the source of Whores' success. Their sound. A monumental drum entrance and guitar screeches welcomes in the crushing vigor of 'Daddy's Money', the opening track. Every element present on this track gives credence as to how Whores has appealed to the metalhead market. Right off the bat it makes it clear that they are distancing themselves from the scores of Crowbar and Melvins imitators with the noise rock style Noisey praised them for being the kings of. It almost makes Whores seem like a reincarnation to their Southern brethren in Florida, such as the aforementioned Floor, Cavity and others- all bands who also play sludge with hefty dollops of wrenching feedback dolloped on to evoke a certain amount of rage and distortion not seen by most other metal bands. The whole EP flagrantly uses this heavenly technique, but with each song having a unique hook that propels it forward. Like heavy machine, Ruiner proceeds with a lumbering grace not unlike a titan from Greek mythos. The album stops just the way it begins, pounding staccato drums overlayed by heavy, feedback-laden riffs, wrapping this demonic automaton in a masterful bow.

Christian Lembach's larger-than-life person and voice, Travis Owen pounding his set like a boxer and Jack Schultz's thundering bass-work all make Whores quite the fun equation, proving once again that the underground holds the best secrets. It's safe to say that, even in the fetal stages, Whores definitely warrants some sort of kingship.


2017 - Frying Pan Media & Thatcher 
Have a nice day! 

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Music Review #152:
Swordmaster
Postmortem Tales
1997
Osmose Productions








Here's a funny story: when I was seven or eight years old, I fantasized about having my own rock band. I had consumed volumes of Breaking Benjamin and Green Day, and I aspired to one day be mentioned alongside the likes of Benjamin Burnley and Billy Joel Armstrong. Said desire isn't really part of my life anymore, but what I can tell you is that during this time I was a kid who loved to plan out things. Hardly any of these things came to fruition, but regardless I loved plotting my dreams in large itineraries and graphics. For this rock band dream, I conjured a single-word name for the band, being...well, Swordmaster. I drew covers of explosions and fire and flying eagles for imaginary "Swordmaster albums", and it entertained the hell out of me.

Well, flash-forward to about a decade later and here I am, with a disc in my hand from a band called Swordmaster titled Postmortem Tales. And would you look at that- explosions on the cover. Go figure.

It's safe to say my past alone propelled me toward this particular album, but I remained curious to discover the actual contents. What lies inside this particular album is at least partially interesting- Swordmaster is apparently a Swedish death-thrash band that made their marks prior to this 1997 studio debut with a black metal themed demo and a split with the Norway-based Zyklon-B. While their genre shift is definitely evident from this record, palpable nuggets of their black metal past are still present in areas like Andreas Bergh's vocal work and the droning ripple of the dual guitars. Upon first listen, I was a bit skeptical of the whole piece and it's nature as an "obscure but boring thrash release". While listening through though I was pleasantly surprised at a variety of satisfying tidbits that did well to throw a wrench into the mix of what would otherwise be a dreadfully monotonous work.

For one, Terror (aka Niklas Rudolfsson) on the skins is quite the piece of work. Owe it to the production (which is quite good for such an indie release) or what have you, but his zealous, machinery-esque drum sound is quite entertaining and fitting, and is heeded by the fact that he is quite impressive with the more rapid fills and tempo changes. Another great part of this album is its surprising eclecticism. Swordmaster not only dabble in death metal and black metal, but also in some more melodic parts such as on 'Blood Legacy' and 'Past Redemption', the band hits some notes that would not be out of place on a power metal album. Such elasticity is extremely refreshing, keeping you on your feet at all times prepared for a different sonic onslaught. The third and final noticeable feature of Postmortem Tales is the above-par songwriting. As previously mentioned, the album has a rather eclectic nature and isn't shy to pull in different metal sounds to create a fun ride. But such eclecticism wouldn't be able to function if it weren't for the songwriting, which is particularly enjoyable due to how fast everything travels. Sometimes it feels almost progressive in terms how many guitar solos and drum fills can be jammed into a simple minute of playing time.

But Postmortem Tales isn't all great, because a few things indeed hamper it. Sometimes the drums and tempo lean a bit too heavily on the thrash 4/4, a metal cliche that haunts even the best of bands. Luckily as stated before, sophisticated drum fills do well to add at least some flavor, as do the melodic guitar solos. Sometimes the vocals can grow a bit cliche as well, but honestly I wouldn't expect much more from a band still clinging a bit to their roots and is still trying to find their sound.

In all, this little gem is a romp that packs quite a punch in some areas. Definitely a punch big enough to give it the edge over much of Swordmaster's peers. I'd say check it out if you've got 45 minutes to spare.

2017 - The Frying Pan & Thatcher 
Have a nice day! 

Monday, November 6, 2017

Music Review #151:
Atheist
The Best Of Atheist
2017
Season of Mist








Ever wanted to own a major chunk of Atheist's discography without needing to purchase 2005's The Collection for upwards of $60? Fear not, a solution is here!

After seven long years following Atheist's last studio album Jupiter, the band finally decided to digitally release their first ever compilation album to date- and what a compilation it is! In true-to-form fashion Atheist grab the most sonically insane and cosmic songs from their studio albums (as well as a live version of 'Mother Man' from Live At Wacken 2009) in a massive 22-track corpus. Forthright this puts The Best Of leagues ahead of other death metal contemporaries' works like Death's Best Of in '92 or Nile's Legacy of the Catacombs in '07, granted both rather good releases, simply from the vastness of the song selection. Especially considering Atheist's relatively small discography, 90 minutes of pure action may seem a bit hefty at first, but for only $10 (roughly €8.50 for you Europeans) from Bandcamp it is a fairly free-and-easy deal compared to another compilation that would front you the same price but with half the content.

This album is a perfect introductory release for beginners and also a good pickup for familiars. The only gripes I have with it are the fact that there's no physical release, because I prefer lending actual tangible material to a hypothetical beginner depending on the circumstances, and the fact that my favorite song 'Why Bother?' from Piece of Time is not present. Maybe they took the title a bit too literally?


2017 - The Frying Pan & Thatcher 
Have a nice day! 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Music Review #150:
Tank
Honour & Blood
1984
Music for Nations








"Do you remember that I felt so bad that you'd been blown away for good?"


Tank's story is one of frontman and bassist Algy Ward slowly detaching himself from his past in The Damned- slinking slowly farther and farther away from the punk rock he had been playing a year prior to him forming Tank. But, just like contemporaries Motörhead, the band stayed attached to their roots firmly, combining the newborn New Wave of British Heavy Metal with the youthful exuberance of punk.

As Tank moved more and more onward however so evolved their music. The punk sensibilities became thinner and thinner as they broached further into the 80's, and by the time 1984 rolled around Tank had dropped the tomfoolery. This new album, brazenly embossed with an explosive military-style cover that would make even Sabaton blush, shows Tank at their most balls deep in this new medium. The vivacious Honour and Blood bears the brunt of some of the most badass metal to come from the early 80's. Each drum hit clicks like the hammer of a gun, no matter how simplistic the beat (which they are often not, thank god) may be. Each layered guitar lick reflects off itself and it's rippling bass counterpart to create a cacophony of chaos at each turn. This is of course without mention of Ward's vocal work, which is reflected particularly well on the force ten hurricane opener 'The War Drags Ever On' and the title track. No screeching or castrato stuff here- just brash, primitive growls...as it should be.

The sharp sonic assault created on multiple occasions are some of the finest that this particular scene has to offer, and can work in both a rapid gallop, or a slower, sludgier jog like 'Chain of Fools' or 'When All Hell Freezes Over'. Whatever your preference, it's likely Tank has you covered fairly well. But with almost every album, a few listens-through provide a few strikes against it. Ward's vocals, while almost always good, can get a bit silly the more guttural he goes. This is sometimes a shame because his clean vocals (seen on 'W.M.L.A.') are often equally as fitting for the music as his bellow. As a NWoBHM album, Honour and Blood occasionally delves into contrivances with some of the guitar work, but it remains almost always creative even at it's worst (even 'Too Tired to Wait for Love', possibly the closest they get to a ballad is fun as all hell). Of course we also have to take into account the time period; it's pretty obvious that the 1980's inanity would weave itself into the music at certain points, such as the glam vocal choruses and sometimes ridiculously cheesy lyrical themes (though 'Kill' is an extremely dark tune lyrical-wise for the time). These factors might bog a lesser album down to a much lower quality, but Tank's sound and presence is just so much more creative than others that, even through the lowest points, you're still cheering these boys on.

And so, the war drags ever on.

2017 - The Frying Pan & Thatcher 
Have a nice day! 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Music Review #149:
Topaz
Listen!
2000
Velour Recordings








Cranking out their debut in the bright Spring of 1999, NYC jazzists ambitiously forged ahead with the determination to make a name for themselves. Listen!, the follow-up record, makes its presence known by giving a silent nod to the jazz greats of yore like Herbie Hancock or Miles Davis and their grandfathering of jazz fusion and jazz funk. But a simple recitation of said artists' styles would not only be lazy but counter-intuitive to McGarrigle's dream to make a name for himself in the New York City streets as a distinguished member of his craft. 

So then, let's show 'em what we can do!

Listen! is Topaz' call to action, and duly a showcase of what this small-time NYC group could do. They start out on a brusque foot with a sweeping cover of Donald Byrd's 1972 funk classic 'The Emperor', and is one the big indicators of a duality present on this record as it leads directly into the asimilar 'Let Go'- a freewheeling fun side, and a more eloquent, thoughtful side. The former makes itself clear on the powerhouses 'Rez' and 'Let Go', whilst the latter is abundant on the elongated and often psychedelic-laden jams like 'Dharma' or even the title track. This duality truly keeps this record afloat even throughout the more dull and repetitive moments, although not exactly numerous, with the anticipation of what new bass groove, keyboard tone, or tempo change will come next always keeps you on your toes. Even the soppy 'Peyote Eyes' has quite the inviting atmosphere and is appropriate even as it follows up the rocker of 'Rez', although to call the vocals appropriate to its atmosphere would be a bit of a stretch. Also, be ready to rapidly digest sometimes overwhelming torrent of dynamic sound, because "fill" seems to be one of the only words in McGarrigle and crew's lexicon. 
 
The complete experience this album delivers is a warm and inviting one. Perhaps Topaz will never ascend to the greats, or frankly ascend from being split-up, they've left quite an impact with the succotash they've given me.


2017 - The Frying Pan & Thatcher 
Have a nice day! 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Single Review #7:
A Perfect Circle
The Doomed
2017
BMG








Thirteen years of baited breath and whispered rumors followed A Perfect Circle following their 2004 cover album eMOTIVe and subsequent hiatus. This effect followed both them and Tool, the other project featuring the frontman vocalist extraordinaire Maynard Keenan, as both bands of which fell into what seemed like an irreparable slumber filled with insubstantial announcements of various happenings, none of which came or seemed would come to fruition.

But Tool in fact came back with a bang with a surprise reunion tour in January of 2016, and it was only expected by the collective conscience of Keenan to give a fair shake to his sister band as well. As expected, a little over a year later APC also received recognition with not only a similar tour but one supporting the release of a new single (/rumored album) titled 'The Doomed'. Remember, this single is the first thing this legendary act has created in almost a decade and a half, so expectations are higher than an elephant's ear.

'The Doomed' has arrived at a perfect time, particularly for me, at a time when I am personally starved of new and enthralling uniqueness on the rock scene, let alone the hard rock/metal scene. It has got to be one of the most interesting songs released over the span of this entire year, and this is for a variety of reasons. First, for those who care to know, this song does in fact synthesize previously established sounds on other APC records, particular the past two. In other words Thirteenth Step and the good stuff from eMOTIVe, especially the original song from the latter, 'Passive'. This means great big burly drums (by new member Jeff Friedl replacing long-time member Josh Freese) that shift from simplistic beginner fills to war-like timbre that fills the stage heftily. This coincides perfectly with Keenan's vocal delivery- one of his absolute best in my opinion- which similarly shifts from scratchy and raw (akin to the Tool trademark) to almost saddened, quiet bridges. These bridges lament of a rapture-like event, as a "new Christ" comes to bless/doom those he deems worthy or not. The blessed are portrayed as undeserving (the fornicates, the rich, the envious, etc.) as they sit on the proverbial skeletons of the deserving doomed (the pious, the pure-of-heart, the peaceful). This lyrical environment is not only fresh but also almost bemusingly expressive. Although such greatness is unsurprising from such an act as A Perfect Circle, the content they deliver is straightforward yet thought-provoking, panicked yet collected, emotional yet headstrong. All in perfect harmony with eachother.

I'm not sure why I felt the need to write such a massive review for a single track, but a band that is so important to me and my past releasing such satisfying content is something I'm not willing to slip under my radar so easily. Fantastic.


2017 - The Frying Pan & Thatcher 
Have a nice day! 

Friday, September 29, 2017

Music Review #148:
Nothingface
Nothingface
1995
Emporium Records







Nothingface's little-known 1995 debut unsurprisingly shows them at their most vulnerable and creatively amateurish. As a result the band seems to play much of their sonic onslaught safe, leaning heavily on their contemporary influences to guide them through the ordeal of a studio debut. These influences mainly revolve around the increasingly-popularized Korn sound with stocky, punchy drum fills and semi-reserved riffing to make way for what is generally the most-sought piece- the vocals. Such a production choice is a bit of a problem though as Matt Holt in his earliest stages really hadn't quite perfected his scream nor his clean vocals, both of which would become hallmarks of the classic Nothingface sound. At his best, Holt sounds like a mediocre proto-Chad Grey-esque character, with his emotional value not nearly being up to par with his future work.

The band occasionally hits some marks though- mainly because these lovable bastards are so talented- with really well-thought-out constructions in their music. For example, 'Severed' is likely the most epic and impressive tune out of the bunch, showcasing not only Houck at his best with his blistering syncopation but also a rather fantastic and roaring breakdown that makes the track hold up to even some of their greatest hits. I cannot for the life of me understand why it wasn't chosen as a track to re-record for Pacifier in '97. Another highlight is the atmospheric 'Communion', another very Korny track where Holt channels Jonathan Davis with a warbling, weak-sounding whisper layered on with microphone distortion effects, creating quite the formidable atmosphere for fresh-out-of-the-underground band. But while these tracks are indeed great and a fun romp either way, Nothingface 1995 is still an album that could do with much improving, which is almost certainly to be expected with such a new band who hasn't quite found their footing at this point in the music world.

2017 - The Frying Pan & Thatcher 
Have a nice day! 

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Music Review #147:
Ministry
Filth Pig
1996
Warner Bros.







A string of fantastic albums preceded what is likely to be Ministry's least experimental yet their most brash release they've ever put out- 1996's Filth Pig.

Up to this point, Ministry's music had been extremely eclectic, installing them permanently as one of the greatest industrial metal acts to ever be. Psalm 69 marked their entry into the 1990's, as well as the third album to achieve fantastic reception and hailed as fantastic upon it's release. Four years later however Filth Pig changed that landscape as Ministry opted for a much more caustic and barbaric version of themselves- one that skipped the pleasantries of unusual influences and time signatures and skipped straight to the meal. This meant much more focus on down-tuned guitars and a newfound (and rather perplexing) sludge metal synthesis. This means that much of the "industrial" sound that made Ministry unique was replaced with a much more by-the-numbers heavy metal approach, replete with pounding drum hooks, throbbing guitar riffs- the whole shebang. But such a drastic change is hard to actually accomplish with a straight face...and it seemed that not even the great Ministry could manage the feat.

When it comes down to it, Filth Pig lacks the substance it's predecessors. The track 'Lava', while being a guilty pleasure song with it's wavering distortion and Al Jourgensen's hissing vocal backdrop, is a perfect example of how fleeting the experience this album brings is, as it follows practically the same structure as most of the other songs like 'Crumbs' and 'Useless'. To contrast, The Mind is a Terrible Thing To Taste had a tracklist that constantly changed from song to song, each one having a unique vibe. Filth Pig's songs seem to just bleed into eachother boringly, to the point where it sometimes becomes hard to tell between one and another. The sludgy hooks and beefy atmosphere seems more often than not bloated and overblown and are not nearly enough to keep the album afloat. The overall result is a group of brooding tunes that leave little-to-no lasting impact with their grandiose potential, but ultimately no extra spice to get them kicking like classic Ministry tunes.

2017 - The Frying Pan & Thatcher 
Have a nice day! 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Music Review #146:
Great White
Great White
1984
EMI







If it weren't for the fact that Great White emerged from the United States, I would certainly confuse this release to be a part of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal movement of the early-1980's. This is because it's clear from their first record that Great White not only synthesized sounds from contemporary glam acts like Mötley Crüe and Quiet Riot, but also from emerging European groups such as Accept and Iron Maiden. This could be because the history of glam metal and the NWoBHM are very similar and happened at similar times, though on different continents.

But what differs Great White's 1984 breakout from albums like Killers or Breaker is the more pronounced hair metal nature of the record; from Jack Russel's catchy vocal hooks to punkish melodies, Great White channels the fabulosity of glam enough to differentiate them from their "darker"-in-tone European cousins. This also goes for lyrical value which, while not seemingly as brash and promiscuous as something Crüe might come out with, is still beautifully cheesy like on songs like 'Bad Boys'.

When it comes time to get heavy though, Great White certainly deliver. 'Substitute''s rollicking drum interlude interspersed with a chugging dissonant riff, the slowly rumbling and oddly dark 'Streetkiller"- these are just a few examples of how Great White uses the glam tradition of being able to please a stadium to bring an enjoyable (and often surprisingly intimidating) performance throughout. Though I will confess that Great White are prone to breaking the great atmosphere they create with awkward segues into uninspired cheesecake sections of pretty-boy rock, admittedly similar to what most glam-style bands do, which are presented seemingly as more of obligations than for sake of actual substance.

Great White's debut is much like a sore thumb compared to the rest of their discography. It's much more heavy, pugnacious, and raunchy than the more commercial style that they would go on to adapt. It remains a rather obscure and underappreciated piece of the sprawling puzzle that is 80's metal.

2017 - The Frying Pan & Thatcher 
Have a nice day! 

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Music Review #145:
Topaz
The Zone
2002
Velour Recordings






It had already been five years since tenor saxophonist Topaz McGarrigle's Texan jazz act made it's debut by the time the group's third studio album rolled around. It's hard to judge whether or not they were earning the fruits of their labor because, other than the occasional resurfacing of McGarrigle such as his new band Golden Dawn Arkestra, the group has practically erased themselves from all the books. 

Topaz were hampered down their whole career by a changing music scene after their pilgrimage from Texas to bustling New York City. McGarrigle's idea was to take advantage of the reinvigorated neo-futurist (as I like to call it) jazz casually gaining momentum in the 90's and market his and his groups talents within it. Problem was, hip-hop and R&B had been gaining momentum much more within the same decade, so much so that the hype for this new medium basically snuffed the jazz candle from any mainstream success. Although Topaz never truly made it to any high status or really even cult status sadly, they nevertheless delivered several great releases as they continued to evolve, regardless of how much attention they were getting...or lack thereof.

Topaz' music isn't exactly revolutionary, nor is it exceptionally technical like you might expect a contemporary jazz fusion act might be. Of course, McGarrigle's work on the sax is extremely proficient in both standard style and avant-garde, as well Squantch on the trombone. But what Topaz's The Zone exudes more than anything is personality. Tight knit instrumentation can bleed perfectly into rich improvisation, making the entire group, while not exactly attempting to show themselves as the most technically robust jazz act out there, still manage to make themselves seem like living legends with class alone. This could in part be due to the influence electric-era Miles Davis had on them, and to which they owe much of their structural composition. Yet other genres progressively ooze their way onto the set, particularly on the funky bass licks being the driving force on many tracks, such as the almost 8 minute long swagger of 'Walkabout'. The funk attitude is also present on heavy groovers like 'Fat City Strut', and with a name like that I'd expect nothing less. A tinge of psychedelic aura on many of the songs, especially the opener 'Minha Mente', reinforced by the mesmerizing drum fills by Christian Ulrich, make for a well-reinforced acid-jazz environment.

Some dubious elements also make themselves present though. The occasional vocal breaks on some of the songs, like the overly cheesy ones of 'You & Me', tend to disrupt the flow of what would otherwise be a very maturely structured song. Along with that and a fair bit of annoying repetition in many of the songs (in the percussion section especially) do make The Zone withstand a bit more quality it otherwise would have.

Topaz's third album marks another rather good release for the band after 2000's Listen!, and also marks the band's continued level of quality even as they progressed towards their dissolution.

2017 - The Frying Pan & Thatcher 
Have a nice day! 

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Music Review #144:
Blackalicious
A2G
1999
Quannum







EGYPTOLOGIST WISDOM! 

Arising from the Quannum Projects hip hop collective, duo Blackalicious complete their evolution into a bona fide group purporting their own legendary brand of rap with 1999's A2G EP. This evolution does well to differentiate themselves from their previously established A Tribe Called Quest-esque sound well by replacing it with a more caustic and funky production, which holds Gift of Gab's intricately woven intelligence much better and on a much higher and more appropriate pedestal. 

A2G also articulates Blackalicious' intelligence better not only with Gift of Gab's beautifully constructed flow, but also with Chief Xcel's craft. Said craft brings an old-school vibe with samplings of complex guitar and bass hooks to a modern record. Such is presented fantastically with 'Clockwork'- a bobbing 70's-style bass riff (reminiscent of Funkadelic, a band held in high esteem by Xcel) heading off the conscious-hip-hop elements that Blackalicious have been flagships of for over 20 years. Gab can also bring a unique flair to his flow when he uses perfectly placed cadence to freshen the sound. Though he can sound a bit silly when he tries his hand at vocals like on 'Deception', still I believe the message of staying within one's own boundaries regardless of the fame they've achieved is still important, along with all other moral lessons communicated on this.

Though still basically a prelude to even better and more progressive Nia LP to come a few months later, A2G is a quintessential piece of the legendary act's discography. Not only that, but it also contains the famous 'Alphabet Aerobics' in full. Absolutely recommended.


2017 - The Frying Pan & Thatcher 
Have a nice day! 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Music Review #143:
Livid
Beneath This Shroud, The Earth Erodes
2017
self-released








Minnesotan doomsters Livid finally hoisted up their trousers after drifting around in the ethos for two years and pumped out an egregiously titled debut.

True to their roots, Livid makes their presence known with a short track list of only five pieces, while at the same time making said tracks long enough so that they total to a contradictingly long album. This could be owed to the 'jam' being a very important facet to doom metal culture, stretching back to bands like Saint Vitus (who employed the same technique even back in 1984). Regardless it should be obvious that Livid takes this time to exercise their power and artfully overstay their welcome to make a point of it. But such a construction has been done before; many bands also self-labeled doom metal act the exact same way, which means that an artist should, especially in modern day, tweak the minute details to stand out from their peers. The way Livid does so is to be discovered.

Beneath This Shroud, The Earth Erodes is a monster, no doubt. As aforementioned it's structured similarly to a old-school doom metal album with lo-fi production to match, the latter of which does well to put them slightly above others that fall back on cleaner, sleeker production a la Pallbearer-- maybe a throwback just sounds more genuine than a rekindling sometimes (production-wise only though, probably). Aside from that however Livid's strong point is how they present the album. Almost every track bleeds into the next, starting from the ethereal opener 'Descend'. For example, said track closes with a 5-or-so second pounding drum introduction that could have been very easily placed on the second track instead, but with this design it is clear this particular album is meant to be enjoyed in one listen, akin to a forty-five-minute long monolith. For me this is undeniably the best way to experience a doom metal album but for another this approach may seem a bit clunky, especially if you choose a track out of the lineup at random and it closes like it's leading into another, even when it's not. Regardless the one-go method works particularly well for this album, with the aforementioned 'Descend' leading you slowly into the moody entrapment of 'Nothing', which blows the previously quiet and subdued vibe completely out of the water with a large, droning epic. While of course this is a doom metal album and the songs do tend to bleed into eachother, a noticeable increase in quality is clear as it proceeds, lighting up especially with 'The Fire'. More drum fills, more caustic guitar variations-- the whole shebang. All of this propped up on the sonorous howls of Cole Benson, who utilizes the semi-operatic style that I've seen used almost always very well in bands like Cave of Swimmers, and it certainly works well here. 

Though as much as Livid synthesizes their strengths from their forebears, they also do the same for their weaknesses. Contrivances litter this album, as it doesn't do much to show you any new sights that you haven't yet seen (especially if you're one at least semi-well versed in the doom genre). The debut is a throwback, sure. But there comes a time when the effect is worn out, and it feels like Livid treads that line a bit too enthusiastically. Furthermore, the art of repetition and lengthiness used on albums of old now have begun to feel a bit clunky in the modern era. Sometimes a short, punchy track is much more engaging and entertaining than a long, drawn-out humdrum of a looping guitar lead. 

Talent is on display here, clearly. Livid, similar to Avatarium and plenty of other latter-day doom acts, shows promise on their first outing. It's what they'll do with the power they now wield that remains in question. Good nonetheless.

2017 - The Frying Pan & Thatcher 
Have a nice day! 

Friday, July 28, 2017

Music Review #142:
Hellwitch
Syzygial Miscreancy
1990
Wild Rags







Hellwitch's Syzgial Miscreancy is less the product of progenitors and more the product of fans.

Although this album is technically considered to be "thrash metal", it's no big mystery where Hellwitch put their allegiance with, genre-wise. Atheist, Death, and Morbid Angel are just a few of the bands the band pride themselves on sharing the stage with. The influence of these particular bands are evident especially on the band's 1990 debut, arriving in the wake of other such debut releases like Piece of Time and Altars of Madness arriving but a year prior.

However although Hellwitch are clearly inspired by the late-80's technical death movement, they still retain the fan-tribute aura more than I've seen many other bands do. The music is amateurish, almost demo-like, making Syzygial Miscreancy really hard to differentiate from the six years-worth of demos leading up to it, production-wise. This doesn't necessarily detract from the quality, rather it actually sort of renders it it's own charm as a relatively shoestring-budget release. Of course though a not very technically diverse musical landscape can, more often than not, make an album sound rather flat and make tracks sound almost the same, which granted does happen a few times on this particular record. However a few factors make Hellwitch not actually fall on their face.

1. The musicianship. I know we've already rattled on about Hellwitch's influences, but it must be restated as it's extremely important to how they carry themselves. If they are to truly live up to the wrecking-balls that influenced them, they better be able to play like them. And they do. In particular the channeling of Atheist is made clear with the face-melting eclecticism of all three members, especially rapid tour de force on the kit with Joe Schnessel. The almost Voivod-ian guitar solos and the unexpected tonal shifts and guitar hooks all lend a very professional atmosphere even amidst all of the low-fi fuzz.

2. The overall structure of Syzygial Miscreancy is very laudable, with the aforementioned tonal shifts and surprise melodic riffs keep each track very interesting. The album has a short runtime of only 25 minutes, minuscule in terms of most albums of their caliber, yet this short time also makes it so the album doesn't get stale in an instant and doesn't contain filler. It is something I wish more bands would pay attention to- a shorter album could spell great things for how well it ages.

But Hellwitch does make a few mistakes here and there. For instance the random vocal filters Patrick Ranieri uses on some tracks just sound absolutely ridiculous and out of place, and really only serve to get a laugh out of me personally when they're there. Interestingly enough I find that Patrick Ranieri's vocals are the biggest problem with this album, and it could honestly be due to the production. Usually on other albums audio engineers are able to blend the musicians quite well so that, even when one might mess up, it can sometimes go unnoticed, shrouded amongst the music. Amateurish production is more dangerous in this sense because it is sometimes unable to cut the fat. Ranieri's vocal screams, especially on 'Nosferatu' can are extremely strange and silly because often times he sounds more like he's hyperventilating and not screaming. This happens a few times throughout but overall it isn't that huge of an issue as it doesn't seek to degrade any of the instruments, but when these vocal hiccups are there they are still quite distracting.

In all though this particular album is still a winner. Short, sweet, and charming in it's occasionally maladroit delivery, Hellwitch's debut is something definitely to check out.


2017 - The Frying Pan & Thatcher 
Have a nice day! 

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Music Review #141:
Judas Priest
Rocka Rolla
1974
Gull







Judas Priest's 70's albums are usually cast in bronze as some of the earliest and most high-quality developments of heavy metal that have ever been. Not only did they expound on Black Sabbath's discordant proto-doom by evolving it into a faster, more explosive version of itself, but albums like Sad Wings of Destiny, Stained Class, and Sin After Sin all paved the way for the New Wave of British Heavy Metal that would dominate the Western charts for years to come.

It's hard to deny how beloved these albums are. They're practically legendary. All except for one. One that sets itself apart from Priest's 70's repertoire in both its obscurity and its strangeness. Funnily enough, it also happens to be the band's breakout first album.

1974's Rocka Rolla is a musical enigma. This isn't to say the music is impossible to understand, because it's not. For one, the album is much more progressively slanted as prog was in sort of phase two as bands like Rush emerged in the same year in the wake of the late-60's uprising. This can be seen on best on the sprawling eight-and-a-half minute long epic 'Run of the Mill' with the Floyd-esque guitar tuning and spacey vibes permeating the first chunk of the track. At the same time however, much of Rocka Rolla is infinitely more laidback than a tightly-strung album like Sad Wings, both lyrically and musically. The swaggering, bluesy knuckle-duster-knockout 'Rocka Rolla' especially exemplifies this side, wherein a young Rob Halford channels Bon Scott's greasy punk aura to deliver one of the oddest moments in Priest history. It maligns itself with any subsequent song Priest put out, but goddamn does it rock.

Not only in this way does Rocka Rolla set itself apart from other 70's Priest albums, but it also does so with it's sheer off-the-wall musical makeup. This is really where the main criticisms of the album come into play, as with an album such as this many are quick to claim it as underfocused and maldeveloped, and in most cases I would tend to agree. I suppose though that where this branches off is honestly dependent on personal taste. I personally love the elements Priest cobbles together on the album- the softspoken and melodious humdrum of 'Caviar and Meths' (an Al Atkins tune which, due to time constraints, had to be neutered from fourteen to two minutes), the snappy, riff-laden heel-clickers like 'One For the Road' or 'Cheater', etc. This is all without yet mentioning that Rocka Rolla showcases what I believe to be one of Priest's finest moments in their entire career- 'Dying to Meet You'. This particular song is divided into two sections: the first being a low-pitched Rob Halford lamenting over dual guitars shifting from muddy and pounding to austere and subtle with satisfying drum fills by one-timer John Hinch taking up the background. The song then shifts to it's second part, a rollicking rocker similar to the title track, and is also reminiscent of 'The Ripper' from Sad Wings with an early showcase of Halford's high notes, albeit in bluesier fashion.

The talented band's earliest incarnation is mainly what the quality of this album is owed to. The aforementioned John Hinch is a fantastic drummer, with his off-kilter, almost jazz-like playing that makes even the most simple of moments on this album seem intricate. I do agree with the band's decision to dismiss Hinch though. Although I think that Glenn Tipton's words of him being "musically inadequate" might have been a bit harsh, his style was not very well suited to the band's heavier future as opposed to someone like Alan Moore. Rob Halford needs no introduction, but I will say that the lower octaves he hits were scarcely replicated in the band's future endeavors, which I find unfortunate because they are pretty good. I quite enjoy Ian Hill's pounding performance on 'Dying to Meet You' especially on the second part, and of course the dual ripcord guitar duo that is Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing are a force to be reckoned with, even with their more synthesizer-fronted sound before their evolution.

Well, this was a bit of a ramble. But in all honesty I've listened to Rocka Rolla more times than I can count and it's always remained a staple in my favorite records, even if it might not be the heaviest nor the most high-quality Judas Priest record to exist. To say I have a soft spot for it may be a gross understatement- I fucking love it.


2017 - The Frying Pan & Thatcher 
Have a nice day! 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Music Review #140:
Anathema
Serenades
1993
Peaceville








Serenades' story is an unfortunate one, mainly due to the album being unknowingly doomed from the start to be cast aside because of how much of a reputation Anathema would gain with preceding albums. I'm not the first one to say it, but it's fairly cut-and-dry that Anathema's debut does not match up in quality to nearly every other release the band had following it. This goes for not only Anathema's progressive rock material but also in terms of their doom metal albums, because they made leaps and bounds with their previously half-baked ideas with the Silent Enigma two years later. So really what makes Serenades generally thought of as bad?

Well aside from the aforementioned comparisons it gets to later material (that is usually judged to be much higher quality), Serenades is generally not very interesting. It's unnaturally melodic in unfitting places with overly loud guitars drowning out dull, growling vocals from Darren White, making for a seemingly confused doom metal album that shows a different genre within it but refuses to show it to it's full potential, in this case the progressive side of Anathema. I will admit on first listen it packs quite a punch- the double kick, crisp drumming from John Douglas really contrasts well with the very large-sounding guitar duo of the Cavanagh brothers. And then they do it again. And again. And so forth. It really is a neat concept that could use more exploring, but here it's just really maldeveloped. The melodies also get stale extremely quickly. 'Eternal Rise of the Sun''s opening hook isn't anything really special, but it is substantial. Then it gets repeated so much that it just gets annoying.

Honestly I think the biggest problem is Serenades doesn't want to be a gritty, Winter-esque album with very low production value and little eclecticism. Young Anathema wanted to be more than that, obviously, but how they show that is with an underwhelming release that can't decide whether it wants to be complex or simple. And don't even get me started on the twenty-three-and-a-half minute long pseudo-orchestral snooze-fest that is 'Dreaming: The Romance". Usually when you see a song of that length you'd assume something spectacular. Instead you get almost a half-an-hour of flat, programmed strings with very little variation, and sounding like an intro or interlude stretched out twenty minutes too long. Really it's a disappointing ending to an already disappointing album.

Serenades is an album remembered among really only fans, and not really for a good reason. It's an underdeveloped...well, I wouldn't really call it a "mess" but more along the lines of a misstep. It was corrected fairly well but it's a tangled debut with bigger aspirations than it can fit in it's tiny box.

2017 - The Frying Pan & Thatcher 
Have a nice day! 

Monday, July 10, 2017

Music Review #139:
Nothingface
Violence
2000
TVT








With nu metal, the quality can go one of too very polar-ended ways: either it is structurally basic, repetitive, laughably edgy, or just plain uninteresting, or it's surprisingly competent and able to incorporate more interesting elements than the genre is known to allow. This is not an original observation by any means, but it is important to keep in mind as to distinguish quality nu metal releases from the mountains of drivel that also occupies the genre. And this pile of drivel is enormous- so enormous that I wouldn't really put it past someone to dismiss the medium in it's entirety. In my case when I find something actually good that happens to be golden-age nu metal, it is surprisingly and extremely refreshing. Today's pick is Nothingface, an act arising from the surprisingly vivacious hotpot of Washington D.C. They were rather early to the scene with their 1993 emergence and shot a slew of well-judged bullets through their 90's career, and didn't even end of up petering out by the time An Audio Guide to Everyday Atrocity came out in '98.

Then came Violence. This breakout disc was the band's second to last release but also happens to be their most caustic, interesting, and violent. Right off the bat it's clear from the title and the minimalist cover bearing only the album and band's titles and a strip of a Roy Lichtenstein-esque illustration that Violence is about as blunt as a ball-bearing cosh swinging at your skull at 25 mph. Fear not, the music certainly reflects that. Thematically it is very reflective of the era's newly born alternative metal scene with somber and often times volcanically pugnacious lyrics, which blend very well with Matt Holt's low-pitched and melancholic self-harmonizations. The raw aggression is conveyed through snarling guitar licks and barely-restrained yet pretty complex at-times drum fills from Chris Houck (who has probably become one of my favorite nu metal drummers of all time). Also, some of the hooks on this album in particular are extremely catchy at times either with the vocals or the guitar. I think 'Can't Wait For Violence''s chorus had been stuck in my head for several days after listening all the way through the album. Going back to Matt Holt; harmonizations are present but something that really brings the apoplectic rage is his extremely raw vocal screams, which would likely not sound out of place on any other more respected metal album. Not only are these screams very well done and do well to get my heart kicked up a few notches at some points, the unapologetic use of juvenile curse words is a good motif and a conveyance of a sort of loss of humanity amidst the animalistic fury that is used on this record. I think the line: "FUCK! SCRAPE OUT HIS EYES!!" from 'Hidden Hands' will go down in my books as one of the unabashed incitements of ultra-violence I've heard in music.

Violence, as well as Nothingface in general, is a real diamond in the rough and I hope they do get more recognition, especially considering Matt Holt's horribly unfortunate death a few months ago. Even nu-metal naysayers I believe are safe near this record.

2017 - The Frying Pan & Thatcher 
Have a nice day! 

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Music Review #138:
Voivod
Killing Technology
1987
Noise









In the short time span of a year following Voivod's second album the band reinvented themselves drastically and almost frighteningly well in time for their third release. It marked a short lived second generation of Voivod, one that mediated the hardcore punk infused, lo-fi thrash that they represented in their earliest years, and the eccentric and boundlessly creative prog thrash that would garner the group their most popular image. Thus Killing Technology represents a half-and-half mix of both sides, still bearing anarchic similarities to Rrröööaaarrr but also bearing the fruits of a more technical, progressive edge in its earliest Voivod incarnation.

The actual music of Killing Technology though is, at times, hard to swallow, and it's not hard to see why it can be polarizing to some. The riffing is obviously enthusiastic and full of youthful energy, but it's also rather unmelodious and rather unpleasant (the metal kind, more as in interesting than bad) at times. The searing scratch of the guitar can broadside the vocals at a completely different melody to what Snake is singing, creating at times an almost black metal vibe such as on songs like 'Tornado'. To counter this, Piggy's guitar can rip into a battering crunch that blends perfectly with the even faster and furious drumming but also the heavy twang of Blacky's bass creates a monstrous, pulse-pounding combo. Not only this but with the unspoken quasi-concept of the dark and horrifying unknown side of space attached like a tag onto many of the songs does well to give Killing Technology an almost alien feel comparative to many of the bands other releases. This is of course what gives Voivod such uniqueness as it hits home the point that very few Voivod releases sound similar, giving the band an ever-present freshness that many other bands of their caliber could not achieve.

Nonetheless it cannot be denied that Killing Technology was the mark of a truly upward slope in quality for Voivod, it terms of quality, creativity, and overall success. One of thrash and prog metal's biggest names are on the fast-track to the upper echelons of greatness and it seems nothing can stop them.


2017 - The Frying Pan & Thatcher 
Have a nice day! 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Music Review #137:
Voivod
Rrröööaaarrr
1986
Noise








Rrröööaaarrr is a very interesting followup to the band's 1984 debut album. It's certainly an improvement in recording quality, as even though the band remains firmly set in lo-fi thrash territory, their abandonment of the then-young Metal Blade Records for the even younger Noise Records proved to be keep them there while also making them sound better. The music has an overall presence that it didn't have before, all while retaining the garage-thrash feel they obviously are going for. But the inability for the band to leave their comfort zone creates an album that is more or less a continuation of War and Pain, even featuring an almost identical album artwork that, instead of featuring the band's mascot, depicts a rusty looking robot instead. There is not that huge of a boundary leap in terms of maturation of sound, and instead Rrröööaaarrr just makes it seem like Voivod's trying to pull the same trick twice. 

Granted a maturation is shown in a few areas, like the song-writing's ever increasing gravitation towards progressive eclecticism that would sprout particularly in the coming albums, and in general there's a better selection of fun songs. 'Ripping Headaches' in particular is to me the most aggressive bit from the whole piece, showcasing not only vigorous power but also a few interesting tonal shifts that do well to pique my interest and come back often. Said tonal shifts would become commonplace of course, so it's fun to see the early stages of Voivod's massive appeal. Also it has a great guitar solo. 'Horror' is another good track that would have better fit on the first album in terms of lyrical value of combat and vicious, otherworldly conflict, and also has some of the best guitar-work of the album in whole. But that aside, Rrröööaaarrr is an album that, if the band didn't have an explosive epiphany following it, almost seems like Voivod running out of ideas. Like War and Pain, it doesn't really have the chutzpah to rival something like Dimension Hatröss. But I will say that it comes a bit closer to doing so.

2017 - The Frying Pan & Thatcher 
Have a nice day!