Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Music Review #130:
Judas Priest
Ram It Down

After the blemishing album 'Turbo' was released in 1986, the members of JUDAS PRIEST, instead of scrapping the idea of traditional heavy metal, continued with it and released a second one of the genre set in 1988, titled 'Ram It Down'. It is obvious that they tried it in the past, with albums such as 'Sad Wings Of Destiny', 'Sin After Sin', 'Stained Class' and 'Killing Machine'. All of these albums reached some sort of success, and some of them even reached huge popularity, like 'Sad Wings of Destiny' and 'Stained Class'. However, PRIEST stopped making the heavy metal sound and instead moved toward a sound of NWoBHM. 

After the 1984 release of 'Defenders of the Faith', they came back with the old trad. heavy metal sound once again. However, being not used to it for awhile, didn't do as well in the beginning (in the case of 'Turbo'.) They continued the trend even in the face of their failure, and released 'Ram It Down' as a followup album.

The album features some great tracks, such as the title track, "Heavy Metal", and my favorite JUDAS PRIEST song, "Blood Red Skies". These tracks, although not being the typical JUDAS PRIEST sound many people know as of today, are amazing 5 star tracks.

'Ram It Down' does also have some strange and overall weak tracks, like "Love Zone", "Love You to Death", and the cover that I'd never think would come from JP, "Johnny B. Goode" (I love the original song by the way).

Mixed ratings came out of this album, most people liked it, yet many wanted either a different sound or a new sound, and that side one in the end, and this was their last trad. heavy metal album until 'Demolition' in 2001. This definitely has more pros than cons, however, and I suggest that whoever likes the Trad. Heavy Metal that JP came out with back in the 70's, would like this album as well.

2017 - The Frying Pan & Thatcher 
Originally written for Metal Music Archives  on 10/2/2014.
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Thursday, May 25, 2017

Music Review #129:
Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap

Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap - 70's rock cheese at its finest.

The thing I adore about AC/DC is the way they infuse their music with just enough swagger and swing to bring them to the top of rock bands in the 70's and 80's. The way they rock their instruments with barely any trouble, and also the way they can take sex lyrics and make them bad-ass, unlike some bands (I'm looking at you, AEROSMITH.).

Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap is one of those albums that really showed AC/DC in the light they were supposed to be perceived in, and people really enjoy it to this day. Honestly, this is a hard review to write, because I grew up with AC/DC being a memorable band and I liked them a bunch, but I've found that it is hard to put in words my feelings about the band, which are mostly positive.

There is the title track as an amazing opener, probably the biggest highlight of the album. Again, this brings up the thing I was saying about the taking of sexual lyrics and making them into music that you strut to. The track is extremely fun, and is most likely a song you'll remember and hum after you listen to it. Overall, this was probably the most successful song off of the release. 'Ain't No Fun (Waiting 'Round to be a Millionaire)' is another good track, but follows the basic forumula most of AC/DC's songs do, with Scott leading the vocals as always with his unique sound. This, even though it does get annoying at times, it is pleasant and it made me and I know many others smile when listening to it.

Overall, I would suggest this to anyone who likes or is interested in the band. Although flawed in some areas, Dirty Deeds is a great introduction as well as an album that has aged well since 1976.

2017 - The Frying Pan & Thatcher 
Originally written for Metal Music Archives  on 12/1/2014.
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Music Review #128:
Get Heavy
BMG Finland / Drakkar

Tell me; do you truly understand what it means to...get heavy?

Finland's Lordi are perhaps one of the goofiest bunch of misfits in the last 20 years of the metal world. If I were to describe Lordi, I'd say think of GWAR, and then imagine them taking themselves even less seriously. Lordi sprung up in 1992, but didn't deliver their debut bombshell until the Winter of 2002. This album, Get Heavy, is still likely unmatched by any other album Lordi has released thus far.

Get Heavy is a collection of overly-indulgent, testosterone fests of stupid energy and blunt assault. The only difference between an album of Get Heavy's ilk and Get Heavy itself is the pure catchiness of every single song. If you look back to Lordi's past in the early 90's and their influences, it's pretty easy to guess where they get their flare. The band that particularly influenced the band's system of operations is KISS, seen most vividly on songs like 'Rock The Hell Outta You' with the turgid theatrical vibe of the song, replete with even the background yell-choir. Yet it would be silly to dismiss this band as a KISS ripoff, as even they themselves wanted to diverge from that arena-rock style. While this is kind of silly to think that they really wanted to diverge to a great extent considering a noticeable similarity to KISS on the final product, they did differentiate themselves with a variety of elements.

Part of Lordi's appeal is their appearance. They're over-complex demon armor is very similar to U.S. contemporaries GWAR, who themselves made their debut fourteen years prior. Another element is their attitude. Lordi is very unequivocal about how silly they are. For Christ's sake, they have a song where they're talking about how the Devil himself is their bitch. These guys are the spitting image of stereotypical metal machomen, and I love it.

The final but likely most important aspect of Lordi's sound is their, well, sound. As I mentioned before the album is extremely centered around very catchy hooks and choruses, the most famous example of these being the fantastic 'Would You Love a Monsterman', a symphonic firestorm of raw emotion replete with Tomi Putaansuu (or "Mr. Lordi")'s unforgettable chorus of "Would you love a monsterman / could you understand the beauty of the beast?" Lordi also channels the sexy, rebellious attitude of 80's glam like on 'Biomechanic Man' or 'Devil Is a Loser', where the concept of being subtle is out of the window. One other note-worthy element of Lordi is their exceptional drummer Sampsa Astala (Kita), who has exceptional skill when considering how not serious the album he debuts on is.

Looking for a good time? Lordi's got you covered. Don't have much else to say. Just listen to it. Please.

2017 - The Frying Pan & Thatcher 
Have a nice day! 
Music Review #127:
The Girl With the Raven Mask
Nuclear Blast

Avatarium's second release came in the wake of their semi-breakout self-titled debut, yet in terms of construction is rather different from it's predecessor. For the most part, the massive doom metal elements are gone. Instead, Leif Edling and friends have pulled in a more progressively-oriented, space rock sound as the focal point. This is clearly recognizable in the Floyd-esque, glittery guitar work of Marcus Jidell and the rapturously synthesizer-laden keyboard of Carl Westholm. As a whole, The Girl With The Raven Mask sounds much more akin to a reinvigorated 70's hard rock album with better production qualities than what one might expect a doom metal album to sound like. On the surface this may sound very appealing, especially to someone like myself who is a loud-and-proud fan of the aforementioned, and to be fair the majority of people are drawn heavily to this album because of these elements. Though on listening for myself following my lackluster opinion of their debut album, I'm afraid that Avatarium's sophomore album has galvanized my crotchety alter-ego. Prepare to be frowned upon.

It is clear that The Girl With The Raven Mask takes heavy influence from progressive rock and metal bands of the 70's and 80's, like Dream Theater (especially), Pink Floyd, UFO, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Porcupine Tree, and many others. It's not an easy task reciprocating the brilliance of these bands, and similarly their innovations. Avatarium unfortunately fumbles in this area, the opportunity to craft a brilliant latter-day revival album falling through their outstretched fingers.

The main problem that this album has is it's structure. The album is almost completely centered around vocalist Jennie-Ann Smith, who may as well act as the mascot for this album and the band in general. By the way, when I say the album is centered around her, I mean that in the most extreme way possible. The instrumentation molds itself to her voice, and breaks from her are few-and-far-between. In fact, many of the songs on the album like 'The Master Thief' have massive portions of her lamenting over the tune of slow, leisurely rock numbers. The only problem is that her voice isn't that great. Sure, it's passable to a degree, but it doesn't have enough endearing qualities to hang on her every word like I believe the album was trying to do. When her voice is gone from the scenario, the rest of the band just sounds dull. Simplistic 4/4 drum patterns get old extremely fast, and spacey guitar noodling does similarly. Soaring climaxes permeate the album, but they just aren't dynamic at all. They just sound dry and uninspired. The only song I believe is ostentatious enough for me to find enjoyment is on 'Run Killer Run', a satisfying, crunching tune where the band is seemingly free from the shackles of predetermination, especially drummer Lars Sk├Âld who, originally was mediocre at best, brings in perhaps his best performance in the band's history. Also it's got a pretty sweet hook, in simple terms.

For the sake of treading the same ground over and over again, I'll just wrap up now. Avatarium started out as a group with some potential, but mishandled in it perhaps not the most disastrous way, but a way that is nonetheless unenjoyable in it's delivery. Not all hope is lost, though. Some good qualities still remain and Avatarium still has a chance to turn my frown upside-down.

2017 - The Frying Pan & Thatcher 
Have a nice day! 
Music Review #126:
Rise of Avernus
L'appel du vide
Aural Music

If I were to say one genre of metal that I'm most connected with, it would likely be doom metal. It's a scene that I love and I believe has the highest amount of hidden and obscure talent currently in the metal world. This is not only due to their heaviness alone as some might think, but due to their creativity. Much of the underground doom scene contains very subversive and skilled musicians, many of which seek to blend doom with a variety of other genres of music, including but not limited to folk, stoner rock, and, in Australia's Rise of Avernus' case, progressive/symphonic metal.

Now, I'm no fan of progressive metal. In fact I believe that in recent years it's become the practical bane of creativity and experimentation, and a genre that has a formula so easy to cut and paste with very little effort. Sure, the musicianship is often good, but sometimes it just seems it's getting put to waste by inventing these sonic landscapes that prematurely age themselves by having the most cheesy structures imaginable. Not only that, but I believe progressive metal is a very hard genre to fuse with others because of it's overbearing nature, i.e. it will thematically downplay whatever other sound the band was trying to accomplish. So you take, like Rise of Avernus has done on their first full-length album, L'appel du vide, progressive metal and doom metal and combine them. It should be clear this is no easy task; doom metal and progressive metal are thematically opposed. One is neanderthalically crude, often channeling brutality without a second thought of subtlety, the other being a genre based (in theory) around complexity and innovation, along with extreme attention to detail. Looking at this they seem antithetical, but it wouldn't be impossible to fuse them. In fact, many bands have already like Katatonia and Opeth, and they did relatively well themselves. In general however, Rise of Avernus passes the ballot pretty alright.

Rise of Avernus focus their assault mainly on the aspects of massive symphonic crescendos and epic melody. This album in particular has a theme of a rally between operatic-like symphonies, represented by clean vocalist Cat Guirguis, and the rough, more archaic doom side with the growling Ben Vanvollenhoven. Sometimes this contrast works in earnest, especially on 'The Mire', a song that goes through a variety of different movements even being one of the shorter songs. 'The Mire' is particularly good in its subtle use of the orchestra, an element that many of the other songs on this album are bit too on-the-nose in their usage of.

The biggest problem with L'appel du vide is that it just isn't very interesting. Sure, there's a lot of material packed into one album and it's fairly progressively eclectic, but it's just doesn't pique my interest to the extent that I believe it should. While the orchestral elements are very neat and add a layered feel to the sound, it's still fairly static given the weapons in its arsenal. I find the best parts on this album are Guirguis' piano interludes with string accompaniment, and the metal elements are just a bit too roughly coincided with them. Not only that, but Guirguis' voice isn't that great either. She can hit the high notes fairly well, but she lacks the dynamic quality needed to convey and This album would have worked much better as a simple classical album or maybe a symphonic rock album. But doom metal? I just think that ups the cheesiness a bit too much to where even I can't make excuses for it.

It's a very interesting fusion what Rise of Avernus have tried to work with here. Although I'm not too fond of this particular release, I won't deny I am intrigued towards a followup. I'll finish by saying that L'appel du vide is a good album with a hefty amount of shortcomings. Shortcomings that can be easily fixed with a subtler tone and a much less overly-bombastic attitude.

2017 - The Frying Pan & Thatcher 
Originally written for the Metal Music Archives Reviewer's Challenge on 5/25/2017.
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Saturday, May 13, 2017

Music Review #125:
Piece of Time
Relapse Records

Musical intuition and technical prowess catapulted Florida's Atheist into cult status shortly before the 1980's, a decade which was perhaps the most prolific for housing the best metal bands of all time, came to an end. It's not hard to see how Atheist achieved a following so quickly, as the band's influence from both thrash metal and elaborate jazz fusion were quick to differentiate them from their peers.

However with a band with such high quality there comes heavy scrutiny. It's, for the most part, a consensus that out of Atheist's current four releases not a single "failure" exists, but a general hierarchy is constructed for the lot nonetheless. Of this totem, Atheist's 1989 debut is generally thought of as being at the bottom. Not only was Piece of Time a preceding to the band's often-thought-of masterpiece Unquestionable Presence in 1991, but it's often cast aside as the least creative and most sophomoric of Atheist's discography.

I guess I feel that, with this particular album, something should be understood- factoring in more complexity does not always equal a better output. What I believe to be the folly of many metal bands (and tech death bands especially) is their inability to put themselves within boundaries, directly distancing themselves so far from a familiar structure that they alienate themselves from the listener, and just become not fun to listen to. Some jazz fusion bands of the 70's experienced this, and sometimes Atheist does too. Just not on this record.

In a world where the barbarism of death metal and the maturity of jazz fusion is blurred, a world which Atheist creates, it is quite hard not to step over this line. The lack of this overstepping though is what makes Piece of Time the overall best album that they've recorded, or at least on par with following work. Anything but lowest on the totem.

Piece of Time is filled with elements of what Atheist would go on to do, albeit with a much more juvenile and rowdy attitude. Each element of Atheist's sound is a multi-layered shell, with each peeling away to reveal another hidden complexity. The fusion of influences the band takes in gives way to duplicitously intricate time signatures, aided by the zealous syncopation of Steve Flynn's constantly morphing drumming. The album can slip at the speed of light from a crunching thrash-gallop easily to a grueling groove (see 'Why Bother?), as the band seems to act as a singular metal entity that can shift and change it's direction at will...all without sacrificing individuality. I for one believe that is an inexorably great feat that not many other bands have managed to replicate. This is without mentioning the inclusion of the sheer speed of each member, especially the insane pluck-age of late bassist Roger Patterson (see 'Unholy War') and guitarist Rand Burkey (best when combined with frontman Kelly Shaefer's guitar), adhering particularly well to the album's overall quality. Some particularly good tracks on here include "Room With a View', 'On They Slay' and 'Why Bother?'- all of which are prime examples of the aforementioned attributes Piece of Time has.

A masterful debut from a masterful group.

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

Friday, May 5, 2017

Music Review #124:
After Death
Valley King Records

A true theme of hell.

Looking back at Cavity's legacy, they were not revolutionaries. Although they did debut in 1995, a mere eight years after Melvins had essentially invented sludge metal, they did no genre creation or pioneering. What Cavity did do on the other hand was take sludge metal and mold it into an even more brutal, raw version of itself. This is, in a way, an equally commendable presentation of music.

But Cavity's tempest of terror ended quite abruptly in 2001, cutting the throat of a growing underground popularity that had been gaining steam since 1995. After a compilation of unreleased material from the 90's, Miscellaneous Recollections, not a peep was heard from Cavity other than a few blips of live performances here and there. Out of nowhere however in 2016, Cavity announced a comeback set for early 2017. Now it's that time, and what we have is the product of pooled emotions that have been brewing for the 16 year long hiatus.

After Death could not be more appropriately titled as the band is practically rising from the grave to record this, but at the same time it's also not exactly a glamorous return. I can easily chalk this up as the most brutal and barbarous Cavity release to date, and it's for a variety of different reasons: Cavity is a husk of it's former self. Gone is the pugnacity towards their work, of a group of young fellas from Miami with an attitude akin to the Melvins. Now what they are (or at least come across as according to this release) is a bitter, hateful group of...well, you know I'm just not sure. Demons, from the sounds of it. Secondly, After Death is not only the most brutal but also the most simplistic of Cavity's discography. The albums four total tracks are long, droning epics of heavy, repetitive, plodding drums, moaning guitar, and twisted, pained vocals. After Death's experimental use of stripped-down instrumentation, heavily balancing on the repetitiveness of the rhythmic structures, is nothing short of uncomfortable. It's actually quite an intimidating release, so far removed from so many other metal albums that it's actually quite alien at times. Tracks like 'Fangs on Beyond' especially utilize a certain industrial sound rarely seen being used by bands like Cavity. The year's already young but I can see this album being one of the most odd it has to offer.

This album is spine-chilling. It's a theme of Charon crossing the Styx. It's so strange too because After Death has gotten very little publicity since it's release, other than their label Valley King promoting it a little ever since it's announcement in 2016. It's truly an oddball of the year that I think, although I'm doubtful it will appeal to all or even many, is very worth checking out just for the experience.

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

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Music Review #123:
Fast Kutz
Ebony Records

Quasi-NWoBHM band Fast Kutz arose to a mediocre prominence in 1987, with the legend himself Ozzy Osborne stating in a review for BBC One's that they were "the most energetic band {he'd} heard in ages". This is not praise to be taken lightly, nor is it praise that's easy to earn. So what exactly were these small-time bunch of English enthusiasts cranking out that made Ozzy almost sign the band to a label himself?

Well Burnin', the sole material ever officially released by the group, is admittedly quite a force to be reckoned with. This isn't necessarily due to a legendary revolutionary tactic or style that they employed, because on the surface Burnin' isn't exactly anything special in the writing or creativity department. What the band makes up for this however is in the intensity Ozzy was talking about that still holds up as remarkable even in latter-day. In a nutshell Fast Kutz are a powerful glam and heavy metal fusion band, acted out by a four-piece outfit. While such a fusion is often a recipe for silly and cringe-worthy disaster, Fast Kutz gets away with it with the intricacy and eclecticism of their instrumentation. Every member of the band is quite proficient in protecting each song from becoming monotonous with illustrious solos and powerful rhythms, especially guitarist Kenny Nicholson and drummer Paul Fowler. Songs like 'Dead or Alive' and 'Driving Me Crazy' are what keep this work from being less dated that many other albums of their caliber, and bands that faded into woeful obscurity around the same time this album was released, because they are content to unabashedly play music less from the mind and more from the soul.

Not to say that Burnin' is exactly a thinking-man's album, because it isn't. I myself am one who very much enjoys the company of brain-food tunes, and although I can laud Fast Kutz for making a competent and steadfast release, my personal tastes come to a partial crossroads. In short, Burnin' is a very fun album that I have a lot of fun with when the mood is right, but at the same time can't find myself accessing with relative ease all the time.

Unfortunately Fast Kutz met their demise when their label Ebony Records went defunct around the time the band was to record their second album. The group faded away in a puff of smoke in 1988, leaving unlocked potential six feet under, occasionally rising in similar band Black Rose which Paul Fowler joined subsequently after Fast Kutz'. However, Burnin' still remains proud and, as a legacy, I believe it was a relatively good one.

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

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Music Review #122:
Independent release

Somewhere along the messy musical family tree that stemmed from the doom-laden Miami metal scene, progenitors of said tree being sludge band Cavity and doom band Floor in the mid-late 90's, a short-lived project (at least in the studio) titled Dove was formed in the early 00's. This said project made it's debut in 2001 on a split with another project by multi-instrumentalist Henry Wilson, that of course being the band Floor. Albeit a short debut it was, Dove's song from the split 'One Year After' foretold a great future for this group.

Cut to three years later. Cavity called it quits in '03, only to resurface much later in 2015, and Floor underwent a long 10-year hiatus, releasing a set of unreleased songs recorded in 1994 as it's own studio album. This release, titled Dove, would funnily enough not really draw many connections between it and the project Dove's self-titled debut and sole release that came around in the same year. While not exactly able to sonically obfuscate his past in Floor, Henry Wilson is still able to create a cohesive power-house trio that is able to, blow-by-blow, deliver a solid release that rivals even that of his prior work.

Dove is an album, and by extension a music group, that takes up the torch of Floor's smothering brutality and Cavity's sludgy experimentation and creates a perfect blend of the two. The album delivered is melodic, punchy, and enjoyable. Dove follows a similar format to the Floor studio debut of 2002, i.e being a collection of relatively short songs that act as more of a singular epic that flow seamlessly between each-other. This is extenuated with the more evident influence of Black Sabbath on this particular release, as Wilson is able to almost flawlessly emulate Tony Iommi's surrealistic crunch to a T. Drummer John Ostberg is the key foundation (aside from Wilson's echoing vocals) to the classic Floor element of Dove, with his extreme similarity to Jeff Sousa (drummer that appears on the Floor album Dove) in his rigidity and tight-knit performance. Jewel is a new character to the fray, acting as bassist. What he lends to the equation is far from ineffectual, because he provides an element that is quintessential in Dove's formula- ambiance. The wavering emanations that seem to rise from each instrument, forming a cloud of doom & gloom is heavily in part due to Jewel's work, and it turns what would otherwise be a by-the-numbers album into quite the experience.

Unfortunately Dove was a firecracker, going off with a huge bang, but dying subsequently and sadly, at least in the studio. Dove would go on to play underground live performances with like-minded sludge bands like The Sword and Starchild, but their studio career was over. However the one product we received was exemplary. From the acoustic opening to the brazen finish, 2004's Dove is a little relic of history that not only provides insight into some of Florida's most interesting metal groups but also stands on it's own as a memorable piece of art that maintains it's dignity through the years.

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