Wednesday, October 29, 2008

KING DIAMOND: The Puppet Master

Produced by King Diamond, Andy LaRocque and JT Longoria

Released: 2003

King Diamond is one of the most important pioneers and innovators of heavy metal music and as such has developed a reputation among some that makes him almost beyond reproach. It's true that his work with Mercyful Fate and his early solo albums are among metal's greatest works, but he has created some rather patchy stuff over the two decades since then. Abigail II: The Revenge probably rates second only to the awful The Graveyard as his weakest effort in this reviewer's eyes, but on The Puppet Master King Diamond seemed to have rediscovered some real inspiration.

King’s greatest sin over the years has been to allow his story-telling concepts to overshadow the music, resulting in albums that don’t stay long in the memory once they’re over. Thankfully The Puppet Master moves to strongly readdress this, with the band, led by long-serving and under-rated guitarist Andy Larocque, being given some breathing space to churn out some quality songs that show some variation in style now and then to keep things interesting. Another refreshing aspect is King’s obviously restrained vocal performance. Too often in the past he has shifted from mid-range to a growl to one of his ear-piercing shrieks for no apparent reason, often in the middle of a lyric. Here he keeps the histrionics mainly for use as chorus back-ups or added effect where it’s actually needed, and it really works. In a musical sense, this album is unmistakably King Diamond in its idiosyncratic construction but with better riffing and more melody than was apparent on the last few albums previous to this.

Conceptually, the storyline isn’t too far removed from what he has done before, all twisted horror romance and spooky locations, but with the addition of some sorrowful female vocals provided by wife Livia Zita and an enhanced melodic feel, The Puppet Master is one of the King's strongest offerings for many years.

  1. Midnight
  2. The Puppet Master
  3. Magic
  4. Emerencia
  5. Blue Eyes
  6. The Ritual
  7. No More Me
  8. Blood to Walk
  9. Darkness
  10. So Sad
  11. Christmas
  12. Living Dead

Rating: 85%

Monday, October 27, 2008

INK: Black Water Reign

Produced by CJ Martin

Released: November 4, 2008

Leeno Dee has always had an ear for a good tune and a watchful eye on the current musical fashion, but his bands manage to somehow just miss out on taking that next step to true stardom. The Candy Harlots teetered on the brink of success for years but in the end were just too drug-fucked and by the time they got clean the halcyon days for their style of rock had ended. Jerk landed a contract with the world's biggest recording company and then imploded before being able to capitalise on a Top 30 album. So you could probably excuse Ink's well-travelled bass player if he's hoping that this could be third time lucky. With three-quarters of Jerk in the line-up, Ink is essentially the same but stripped of the industrial pretensions that Lamar Lowder brought to that band and geared to appeal to the same audience now that Jerk was after five years ago.

With its combination of emo and what passes for mainstream metal these days, "Black Water Reign" perfectly embodies the style of heavy rock that is proving enormously popular at the moment thanks to the likes of Avenged Sevenfold, and indeed if one was looking for a direct comparison then the Huntington Beach combo would be it. The production is full with ridiculously loud and heavy guitars acting as counterpoint to the melodic vocals of Jonathon Devoy. The musicianship is solid and the songs are driving and catchy with a typical metal-meets-emo sound that is thoroughly generic. Anyone who has heard A7X, Atreyu or anything remotely like this will know even without hearing it exactly what "Black Water Reign" is going to sound like. Ink knows this, but they also know that music like this is amazingly popular and still appears to be swelling in popularity. This is band that isn't about making sweeping, grandiose musical statements in an effort to be seen as artistic or daringly inventive. These guys just care about making music that the kids will go nuts over, and in that endeavour they should well succeed because "Black Water Reign" is as good as or better than anything else of its ilk.

It's totally not my thing but for what it is and for what Ink is trying to do with it, "Black Water Reign" is pretty high quality, doing exactly what it needs to and doing it incredibly well. How well it will do against the tide of almost identical releases remains to be seen.

  1. Any Other Day
  2. My World
  3. Lead or Follow
  4. The Oldest Trick
  5. Cry For Love
  6. Two Minutes Hate
  7. The High Road

Rating: 65%

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Australian Idol: 7th Finals Week

It's starting to get tough now with only six people left. The Rolling Stones was the theme artist on tonight's show, and I suppose if you want to choose a band other than the Beatles whose songs can be interpreted into just about any style then the Stones are it. Plus, they're just awesome.

Teale survived another bullet last week and lo and behold did the same old, same old with "You Can't Always Get What You Want" tonight. Everyone loved it for some reason though, as if he'd actually done something different to what he's done every week. There was really nothing special about him again. Why nobody sees this has me mystified, but he's likely to live on again because Roshani totally failed to nail "Wild Horses" in the same way that she has no idea about clothes. I guess her ethos of testing herself had to bring her unstuck eventually, and it could be that tonight is the night.

Everyone else was great, with Wes and Mark so far out in front only Teale's kevlar suit stands in the way of them being the last two standing. Mind you, Chrislyn is still in with a solid chance with only one stumble so far; her "Get Off My Cloud" was another triumph. Luke remains the dark horse and continues to improve with every step. Tonight he even looked comfortable on stage.

So, either Teale or Roshani for the chop this time, but Teale's apparently bulletproof. I'll leave it there because it's late and I'm buggered.

Saturday, October 25, 2008


Released: October 27, 2008

One of the bands I used to party pretty hard with during the 90s was Nitocris, whose album Screaming Dolorous I reviewed earlier in the year. Consciously or not, Girlschool was a major influence on that band's sound if not their attitude (which was more inspired by the riot grrrl movement), and therefore it was little surprise that the first track on this album brought back memories of slamming along to Sydney's own female musical demolition team. The irony of this is that I was always a bigger fan of Nitocris than I was of Girlschool, even though if you put the first two songs from Legacy onto ...Dolorous they'd be a perfect fit right down to the riffing and the vocal harmonies. There was probably many reasons for this, but in the end, it all comes down to consistency.

The Legacy of the title is most clearly both a tribute to Girlschool's fallen guitarist Kelly Johnson, who succumbed to spinal cancer on July 17 last year, and a reminder that this band has been kicking around for 30 years now. "Everything's the Same" is a nice solidly rocking opener followed closely by the looser, punkish "From the Other Side" while "I Spy" is a heavier, darker tune with an almost plodding riff. There are actually two versions of this song on the album, the second of which features Ronnie James Dio and Tony Iommi as guests, and with these two giants adding their touches, "I Spy" sounds truly menacing. Elsewhere, Lemmy adds his inimitable gifts (including playing the triangle!) to the thoroughly rambunctious "Don't Talk to Me" that revisits the Headgirl "St. Valentine's Massacre" EP and there's also a reworking of their ridiculously infectious 1979 single "Emergency". All of this type of stuff is what Girlschool did and still does well. Unfortunately, they still also want to be a pop band, which is something they didn't do well as anyone who's ever heard their horrendous teaming with Gary Glitter will attest.

Only a few tracks in and Legacy goes off the rails. "Spend Spend Spend" is completely pointless and "Just Another Day" is also nothing more than disposable pop-punk that even a solo from Phil Campbell can't save. Indeed, the entire middle of the album just seems to consist of filler that only exists for guests like JJ French from Twisted Sister and NWOBHM bandwhore Neil Murray to play on. With "Metropolis", Girlschool gets back on track and the dark rocker "Zeitgeist" (another one Nitocris could have written) is a good build-up to the one-two punch of "Don't Talk to Me" and the Dio/Iommi version of "I Spy". With guest appearances on no less than eight of Legacy's fifteen songs, one could be forgiven for thinking that jamming with some of their friends was indeed Girlschool's sole intention here, and the fact that Johnson's ashes are credited with providing percussion on the opening song adds a ghoulish touch some would likely find disturbing.

Legacy proves that there's still some life in the Girlschool beast yet, but would be so much better if they'd put "Metropolis" after "I Spy" and left out the songs in between.

  1. Everything's the Same
  2. From the Other Side
  3. I Spy (Girlschool mix)
  4. Spend Spend Spend
  5. Whole New World
  6. Just Another Day
  7. Legend
  8. Still Waters
  9. Metropolis
  10. Don't Mess Around
  11. Zeitgeist
  12. Don't Talk to Me
  13. I Spy (Dio/Iommi mix)
  14. Emergency
  15. London

Rating: 67%

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Produced by Frederick Nördstrom

Released: 2006

Over their previous three albums, Dream Evil delivered nothing less than serious heavy metal, and United is no different. With Mark Black and Pat Powers stepping in to replace erstwhile former members Gus G and Snowy Shaw, United takes up exactly where The Book of Heavy Metal left off, as if there hadn’t been a two-year gap between them. Big surprises aren't to be expected of course, because apart from the lack of G’s dizzying shredding, Dream Evil has not diverged a single step from their chosen musical path.
Catchy, fist-pounding heavy metal oozes from every moment of this release. Frederick Nördstrom’s ear for a hook-laden riff and melody-drenched chorus line ensures Dream Evil never puts a foot wrong in that area and his production makes United gleam without faltering into the realm of heavy-handed plasticity. The inherent cheesiness of lyrics about Satan, evil (of course) and metal itself and song titles like “Fire! Battle! In Metal!” notwithstanding, it’s difficult to resist going into a headbanging frenzy while United rips through your speakers.

Where the album falls down, however, is in its overall facelessness. This could be any of Dream Evil’s albums, with the very obvious exception that Black, despite his ability, is no Gus G. Just like any band that sticks strictly to formula, Dream Evil is becoming less relevant and interesting with each release. So far they’ve been lucky and managed to keep up the quality because United is as enjoyable as everything else they’ve done, but one is left with the feeling that it must surely be only a matter of time before they succumb to HammerFall-style mediocrity.

  1. Fire! Battle! In Metal!
  2. United
  3. Blind Evil
  4. Evilution
  5. Let Me Out
  6. Higher on Fire
  7. Kingdom at War
  8. Love is Blind
  9. Falling
  10. Back from the Dead
  11. Doomlord
  12. My Number One

Rating: 70%

Monday, October 20, 2008

DUNGEON: The Final Chapter

Produced by Lord Tim

Released: 2006

The release of a new Dungeon album almost 12 months after the band was put to bed caused a little confusion among some who havd’t followed them as closely as their dedicated and somewhat rabid fanbase. The title of this however, made things pretty obvious: this was Dungeon’s final album. Just like the others, there’s a meticulous attention to detail in everything down to the extensive liner notes detailing the band’s history, but as usual the music is the most important thing. All the regular Dungeon hallmarks like ball-tearing lead breaks and soaring vocals are in place, but most importantly there’s great songs, with added touches like a sprinkle of keyboards and an epic eight and a half minute ballad that isn’t anywhere near as drawn out or as wearisome as such a description might sound.

First track “Pariah” is a thunderous opening that could be Dungeon’s heaviest ever song. Both it and “Better Man” house a sense of anger and frustration that seems to appear elsewhere also, and this second song features an unbelievably ripping guitar solo that must have almost started a fire in the studio. There’s another in the ANZAC song “Gallipoli” that almost trills wildly out of control, but never does. Stunts like this are what set Dungeon apart from other bands of a similar proclivity, a keen sense that sometimes just enough really is just enough. By the same token, it wouldn’t be Dungeon without a little cheese, and here it’s the unashamedly dumb fist-waver “Steelheart” and the lyrics of the ten-minute forty-second title track, although musically this is awesome with dive-bombing guitar solos and clashing and booming drums.

On the production side, The Final Chapter has a more natural feel to it than the over-produced One Step Beyond, particularly in the drum sound. If there is a criticism, it is that the vocals seem a bit lost in the mix and those drums can be a little too up-front here and there but at least that lets you hear what a killer player Tim Yatras is. Another point to the band’s credit is that they’ve made an album with a running time of over an hour that seems like it only goes for forty minutes or so.

When the Dungeon story had to at last come to a close, The Final Chapter certainly saw it go out in style.

  1. Pariah
  2. Better Man
  3. Curse of the Pharaohs
  4. Fire of Time
  5. Gallipoli
  6. Life is a Lie
  7. Steelheart
  8. The Final Chapter

Rating: 90%

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Australian Idol 6th Finals Week

The Motown phenomonon was responsible for some of the best pop songs ever written. They were simple, catchy and easy for an artist to interpret to their own style. So for any Idol contestant to have come as far as this, Motown night shouldn't be that much of a challenge because only the most untalented cretin could possibly mess up these songs. Inaugural Idol winner Guy Sebastian was a guest judge tonight, but he's such a nice guy that calling him a judge is probably stretching the definition of the word a bit. Perhaps "advisor" would be a better term; he released an album of Motown and soul stuff this year so I suppose he has some area of expertise in the field in any case.

As I said, it would actually be hard for any of these people to make a fist of it tonight unless their voices blew out so it was really a question of who was going to be the worst best or the least good. As usual, Mark and Wes have such an intrinsic grasp on their muse that tonight was going to be a walk in the park for them. Mark's "You Keep Me Hanging On" was perfectly restrained and Wes put plenty of his own personality into "If I Were a Carpenter". Chrislyn recovered from her stumble last week with a sassy "Get Ready" but Motown is so close to her preferred style that a misfire from her tonight would have been utterly unexpected. Forpossibly the easiest song she's done so far, Roshani didn't seem quite as confident as she should have been and sounded like she was mumbling a bit at the start, although she finished well. Luke's been nagged to try out his "sweet notes" for the past six weeks and tonight he actually gave it a bash. It's certainly the aspect of his voice that needs more work but I didn't hear any dud notes or straining so I reckon he did OK once again.

That leaves Teale and Sophie. Teale was the Invisible Man again, as he always is, not really standing out in any way and Sophie didn't impress one way or the other either. That said, she's had some moments where she really has shined and he's had none, so it's off with his head this week.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

THE UNCREATION: Sleeping in R'lyeh

Released: 2006

The aliases should have given it away, but looking at the photos of the guys in the booklet, I first assumed that Perth’s The Uncreation would be a knock-about thrash unit. Then, after the funny intro, the band starts playing Emperor-style melodic black metal! “At War With God” is blistering tremolo melodies and grim, almost spectral vocals at a feverish pace. From here, The Uncreation checks into Deströyer 666-style territory with “The Fall of Jehova” that segues into a quiet acoustic passage before plunging into breakneck thrash once again.

The title track has a cool slow crunch and evil-sounding vocals that wrap themselves around one of Lovecraft’s chants from The Call of Cthulu very agreeably at the end and “Black Earth” is more fast black metal. “The Great Nothingness” and “The Testimony” are both 8-minute epics, the first a dark doom piece with suitably atmospheric keyboards and the second rounding out the album much the way it started.

Sleeping in R’lyeh has a nice diversity about it that never gets too clever for its own good and the production makes the material stand pretty tall. Overall, this is quite a strong debut effort. The Uncreation (formerly known as Nemesis, one of the most overused band names ever) have put together something of a surprise package here that should appeal to black, thrash and death fans alike.

  1. Intro
  2. At War With God
  3. The Fall of Jehovah
  4. Hypocritical, Lies, Divine
  5. Dreaming in R'lyeh
  6. The Great Nothingness
  7. Black Earth
  8. Awaiss
  9. The Testimony

Rating: 70%

Friday, October 17, 2008


Produced by Devin Townsend

Released: 2006

There are perhaps few more anticipated things among many metal fans than a new Strapping Young Lad album, yet if Devin Townsend’s musings about taking a break from music are to believed then The New Black could well be the final chapter in the SYL story for some time to come, or possibly ever. Such a shame it is then that this last album didn’t quite come up to the same standard long expected of Strapping Young Lad.

The New Black is as close as anything Townsend’s had a hand in to being half-arsed. Everything is just as manic and teetering on the brink of complete chaos as always, but in the end one is left with the feeling that on The New Black the band is playing it very much by the numbers and comes across as a bit forced. The presence of complete throwaway tracks like “You Suck” and “Fucker” bare this out. SYL’s lyrics are often far from profound, but an entire song that repeats little more than “Hell yeah we fuckin’ suck” is perhaps pushing the envelope a bit far.

Of course, as always there are also distinct highlights. Early in the piece we are treated to “The Antiproduct” with its nice jazzy section featuring some understated trombone and the fierce but melodic “Decimator” is a great opener. Eight years after it first appeared on No Sleep til Bedtime, “Far Beyond Metal” finally gets the full studio treatment, complete with guest vocals from GWAR’s Oderus Urungus, and is a clear stand-out (read: best track on the album). But elsewhere The New Black suffers from just sounding too much like earlier albums, right down to the typically clinical, overbearing production.

Townsend’s vocals are characteristically diverse and the inclusion of guest singers on a couple of tracks is a cool touch, but overall the album simply doesn’t have the impact of previous issues. It’s almost as if the worst had happened and Devin had either finally driven himself out of ideas or was pandering to fanbase expectations and if either was the case then taking a break is probably the best thing he could have done.

  1. Decimator
  2. You Suck
  3. The Anti-product
  4. Monument
  5. Wrong Side
  6. Hope
  7. Far Beyond Metal
  8. Fucker
  9. Almost Again
  10. Polyphony
  11. The New Black

Rating: 72%

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

DIO: Evil or Divine: Live in New York

Produced by Ronnie James Dio
Released: 2005

Ronnie James Dio is an undisputed master of heavy metal music and such an important figure in its development and sound that it's difficult to imagine what metal would be like without him. Nonetheless, much of his work from the last decade and a half has been less than stellar and I often find myself wondering if he hasn't stuck around just a bit too long (that said, his performance on the Heaven and Hell album from last year is incredible). No better example of this exists than this album, a CD version of a DVD release from two years before.

Evil or Divine: Live in New York would have to be one of the most uninspired “live” albums I’ve ever had the displeasure of hearing. Dio sounds every bit like a man in his 60s and the rest of the band offers a phoned-in performance that does little to generate much enthusiasm for what is essentially a classic batch of songs that deserve much better. I will admit that it starts off ok but about a third of the way through it just loses direction. The riff from “Man on the Silver Mountain” sounds a million years old now and then Doug Aldrich takes a ridiculously painful nine-minute guitar solo that almost made my brain explode. After that, anything would be better but most of Dio’s songs have sounded dated since 1992 and this is nothing but proof of that. Neither evil nor divine, this is merely boring and awful, and at 79 minutes, seemingly endless.

Dio should have stopped making heavy metal records after Angry Machines and gone into a quiet semi-retirement like his old friend Ritchie Blackmore. It’s not as if he wouldn’t be able to afford it.

  1. Killing the Dragon
  2. Egypt/Children of the Sea
  3. Push
  4. Stand Up and Shout
  5. Rock and Roll
  6. Don't Talk to Strangers
  7. Man on the Silver Mountain
  8. Guitar solo
  9. Long Live Rock and Roll
  10. Fever Dreams
  11. Holy Diver
  12. Heaven and Hell
  13. The Last in Line
  14. Rainbow in the Dark
  15. We Rock

Rating: 15%

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

ILLWILL: Evilution

Released: 1998

Illwill was a part-parody side-project for a bunch of King Diamond/Mercyful Fate alumni in the shapes of Sharlee D'Angelo, Andy LaRocque and skinsman Snowy Shaw. With hitherto unknown singer Yonas af Dahlstrom making up the numbers, Illwill was turned out to be a very strange entity indeed.

Evilution is a schizophrenic album which one moment draws from the crunching staccato riff factory of Meshuggah and the next sounds like something Devin Townsend would do! In fact there's no telling where this band is likely to go from one track to the other, with Dahlstrom sounding different on just about every second song, moving from a Halford-style soaring to a sandpaper growl that recalls no one more than Udo Dirkschneider. Some of it is quite obviously a jibe at the posturing of the modern metal bands of the time too, like some of the deliberately orchestrated parts and the occasional Goth-y bits. Plenty of people revile this because of these aspects without realising that Illwill was actually taking the piss.

This is, in fact, one very bizarre piece of work, with the occasional deliberately out-of-tune guitar tossed in and the concept of a time-signature often tossed out. Such avant-garde touches may well be too much for some to come to grips with, but Evilution is well worth the listen, although the seven-minute repetitive a'cappella chant tacked onto the end of the last track ("365 Reasons to Commit Suicide") did get a little tiresome after the first three minutes or so!

  1. Singh Hai
  2. V is for Vulgarians
  3. Cult
  4. Il Organizatione
  5. Six Sec Sex
  6. Whether With or Without
  7. Eternal Sleep
  8. K.A.O.S.
  9. Bid Farewell to Welfare
  10. Who to Trust?
  11. This Barren Life
  12. 365 Reasons to Commit Suicide
  13. EWS

Rating: 85%

Monday, October 13, 2008

ALARUM: Eventuality...

Produced by Theron Rennison and Alarum

Released: 2004

It took Alarum a long time to follow-up their first album, so the title of this could be as much a reference to that near-five year period as it could mean nothing at all. Eventuality… is also an evolution, with tighter songwriting and more focused arrangements, although these are no less technical than previously.

Alarum’s skill in combining the jazz-tinged elements of Cynic and Atheist with the complexities of Death is breathtaking, and the mostly acoustic interludes that appear throughout the album break up the heavier tracks quite impressively. The band added further progressive elements to their overall sound here too. ‘Receiver’ has something of a calypso feel underpinning it and there’s a sitar-like guitar line that permeates through the impossibly technical ‘Woven Imbalance’ that is truly striking. Elsewhere, Alarum highlight their jazz influences in ‘Remote Viewing’ and ‘Event Duality’ while taking the opposite tack on the violent ‘Inertial Grind’ but at no point did they allow one side of their music to outshine any other.

Mature and sophisticated, Eventuality… is an excellent release from an excellent band, one that took them around the world in the couple of years after it appeared. Since then the group has changed substantially with little news coming from Alarum for more than a year, but a new album is due before the end of the year which I look forward to with high expectation.

  1. Velocity
  2. Sustained Connection
  3. Lost Pleiad
  4. Receiver
  5. Remote Viewing
  6. Inertial Grind
  7. Cygnus X-1
  8. Throughout the Moment
  9. Woven Imbalance
  10. Boundless Intent Pt 1
  11. Boundless Intent Pt 2
  12. Subject to Change
  13. Event Duality
  14. Audio Synthesis
  15. Reconditioned

Rating: 92%

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Australian Idol: 5th Finals Week

Well at last it was Rock Night on Idol, the episode I was look forward to and especially this year because I figured that all the people who are left could knock over the challenge. Most of them, anyway, as I had my doubts about Vietnamese John Farnham. Even cooler was that the mentors this week were Tim and Kirk from Australia's second biggest ever rock band, INXS and if that isn't cool then I just don't know what is anymore. Which could be true I guess. I was interested to see how Kirk Pengilly would work with his ex-mother in law on the judging panel though. Trust Dicko to be wondering the same thing and somewhat inappropriately actually ask them in the middle of the show.

Luke came out first for a tear through of "Are You Gonna Go My Way?". His voice is as good as it always is, but his efforts at showmanship are still a bit self-conscious

Thanh got a "Touchdown!" call from Marcia last week, of all people. That's not much of a recommendation really, and this week they're still going on about his range. I can't see what the deal is with this guy. For a dude who's modelled himself after John Farnham, he was struggling to sing like Chester Bennington tonight. The guy has to go.

After impressing me last week, Sophie started out rather badly. Somewhere a bunch of people were undoubtedly screaming about the irony of a hot blond singing about anorexia, but that was no concern. I just wanted her to do the song well, and eventually she did. Hated the start though.

Teale still isn't doing much more than what he needs to do to get through. Again, he picked a song almost anyone at this level could sing, and again tried to hide his stagefright with a guitar. And dude, when bona fide rock superstars offer some advice as to how to lift your game, fucking take it. Don't leave Kirk fucking Pengilly sitting there looking like a dick after he's given you some advice you've totally ignored.

Wes is already a star and tonight was the proof. I wasn't sure I wanted him to do another U2 song, but I forgot about that as soon as he started. He ditched both the hat and the guitar this week, looking every bit the true rock frontman instead, then clinched it by whipping out a harmonica. Classic.

When I heard someone was doing Foo Fighters, I hardly expected it to be Prashani. I give huge kudos to this chick because she tests herself every week. She rocked "The Pretender" about as much as a pint-sized chick can rock it and still make it work, which was pretty well. I'd like to see her get further than this show because she's not shy of a risk.

Chrislyn has been excellent every week but this week she totally dropped the ball. Hugely. Coming on after Wes was going to be hard, but that's no excuse. Not only did she choose a song that wasn't rock, she pretty much failed at rocking it up. Unfortunately for Chrislyn, her size is as much an opponent as the other contestants and fickle audiences will only give her so many chances.

Mark rocked hard as well, as to be expected. Depending on how he handles the rest of the competition, this year's crown should be between him and Wes. Everyone else is just amateur hour next to them.

I've given up trying to predict who'll go this time, although I've been right the last two weeks. I'd like to see Thanh or Teale go because they just don't deserve to be around. One tries too hard and the other doesn't try hard enough. Tomorrow night will tell.

Friday, October 10, 2008

BLACK ASYLUM: Truths of the Blood

Produced by Simon Bailey and Daniel Ford
Released: 2008

Black Asylum has been one of the busiest metal bands on the Sydney scene for a few years now, carving out a name for themselves as a reliable support band for almost any heavy act that hits town. The band's two previous demos highlighted the thrash aspect of their sound, but their debut album release paints them as considerably more diverse. Diversity can have its downside of course, and in Black Asylum's case it's that they seem to try to cover too much and not really establish themselves in any one particular style.

"Beg for Mercy" opens proceedings pretty well with a nice combination of classic thrash and classic metal with "This Time We Rise" continuing in the thrash vein. After this the band begins a somewhat wayward excursion through various guises that often works but sometimes doesn't. On "Victims of the Fall" they sound rather like Daysend, which would be fine if Daysend didn't already sound like that and "Bleeding Away" is like a leftover from The Haunted's The Dead Eye. The lead guitars tear through "My War" and "Black Insanity" features a nice fusion of melodic thrash and groove, which I must say this band does very well. Other songs exhibit influences from metalcore and still others display some melodic death metal tendencies. All is good, but Black Asylum needs to decide what sort of metal band they want to be, and stick to it. There's nothing wrong with throwing in a few outside elements here and there, but have too many and you leave yourself at risk of trying to be everything to everyone.

Truths of the Blood isn't a bad album, but it doesn't come off as particularly cohesive. It's as if the band threw on every decent song they've ever written instead of choosing eight or so that best illustrate their main style. That said, there's far worse you could do than check these guys out, especially if they're playing somewhere near you.

  1. Beg for Mercy
  2. This Time We Rise
  3. Victims of the Fall
  4. Bleeding Away
  5. 12 Gauge Judas
  6. My War
  7. Dawn of No Difference
  8. The Shallow Eye
  9. ...Unspoken
  10. Black Insanity
  11. Dead to the World
Rating: 68%

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


Produced by Nick Raskulinecz

Released: Sept. 27, 2008

When looking at the meteoric rise of Trivium since the rather appropriately-titled Ascendence, it seems to me that the real secret behind the success of these metallic upstarts is that they are really good at keeping a lot of people fooled. They fooled the kids that they are a thrash band, fooled others that they were some fresh new force on the metal scene and now it seems they've fooled the critics that their latest expedition into shape-throwing is some kind of masterpiece. Maybe for Trivium it is, but Shogun didn't exactly leave me reeling in its wake.

After I flipped over the CD to see song titles like "Torn Between Scylla and Charybdis", "He Who Spawned the Furies" and "Like Callisto to a Star in Heaven" I figured that maybe Matt Heafy had snuggled down with a copy of my favourite book, The Encyclopedia of Myths and Legends of All Nations or something similarly immersed in Classical mythology and decided that all this needed was a track called "The Seduction of Hylas" or something about Castor and Pollux and I'd have a massive erection. Unfortunately that wasn't the case, and any excitement I may have had about what I was listening to faded before it arrived. Heafy's lyrics are actually pretty inspired on this and a lot of them do seem to draw analogies from mythology, but this is about the only real inspiration in evidence.

Admittedly, "Kirisute Gomen" gets the album underway with a rather decent little melodic opening before the band heads off into that strange place somewhere between thrash and metalcore that Trivium has designed for itself, and pretty much stays there for the rest of the album. I say "between thrash and metalcore" because while the production enhances the thrashier aspects of the guitars, anyone who's ever heard thrash drumming from guys like Hoglan, Bostaph or Tempesta knows that what Travis Smith does ain't it.

I read a few reviews before I started writing this, as I often do, and found some praise for the catchiness and quality of Heafy and Corey Beaulieu's riffing and while Shogun certainly has some good, hook-ridden riffs, it sounds like the same ones in every song. Indeed, "Kirisute Gomen" is like the template from which the whole album is cut. There are a few interesting moments, like the bass/guitar interplay towards the end of "Scylla and Carybdis" and "Insurrection" hints at the thrash band they really want to be. Too often, however, Trivium lose their way. "Down from the Sky" and "Into the Mouth of Hell" just go nowhere and almost every track seems to be longer than it should be. Finally, they go truly overboard with the title cut. On "Shogun", Trivium patch together heavy parts, melodic bits, clean sections and anything else they can think of in their quest to construct some kind of epic. But like latter-day Metallica, instead of each section moving cleanly into the next, it just sort of clunks into place and rings hollow.

Trivium are a pretty good bunch of musicians, especially the guitarists, but while it may be true that with Shogun they have come into a sound that's more their own, they aren't really the band they've been made out to be and this is really a less-than-spectacular effort.

  1. Kirisute Gomen
  2. Torn Between Scylla and Charybdis
  3. Down From the Sky
  4. Into the Mouth of Hell We March
  5. Throes of Perdition
  6. Insurrection
  7. The Calamity
  8. He Who Spawned the Furies
  9. Of Prometheus and the Crucifix
  10. Like Callisto to a Star in Heaven
  11. Shogun

Rating: 55%

Monday, October 6, 2008


Produced by Down and Matt Thomas

Released: 1995

It's pretty rare when both critics and fans agree about the greatness of an album, but an album like NOLA is a very rare thing indeed. Supergroups are usually pretty hit-and-miss affairs, with most of them not being particularly "super" at all. But Down is one of those that really worked, fusing its various talents to create one of the best metal albums of all.

Written almost entirely by Pantera's Phil Anselmo and Pepper Keenan from Corrosion of Conformity and fleshed out with the assistance of Crowbar's Kirk Windstein and Eyehategod drummer Jimmy Bower, NOLA is a glorious sludge-fest, a relentlessly murky album that simply defines its genre. Anselmo puts in a slow-burning vocal performance that is in parts mournful, desperate and angry and really quite different from his Pantera style. Keenan's riffs are catchy and immense and Bower's drum sound borrows from the enormous, up-front style of John Bonham: powerful, echoing thunder. The raw production only enhances the atmosphere of this release. NOLA sounds like it was recorded in a rehearsal studio during a jam session in which ridiculously copious amounts of controlled substances were being imbibed.

From the opening chords of "Temptation's Wings" you know that this is going to be a dark, pained but strangely enjoyable journey through tales of prison, hard living and celebrations of drug use drawn into stark reality by Anselmo's cryptic, seemingly train-of-thought lyrics that rank as some of the best he ever penned. The sensational, layered "Stone the Crows" is the album's stand-out and rightly its best-known cut, but immediately after it is "Pray for the Locust", an acoustic interlude that recalls Tony Iommi's on Master of Reality, the album NOLA most closely resembles. Then comes the monumental closer, "Bury Me in Smoke", a cataclysmic stoner epic that perhaps only Sleep could match.

NOLA is a true masterpiece, easily as good or better than anything Down's individual members created with any of their other bands. One of the best heavy rock albums ever.

  1. Temptation's Wings
  2. Lifer
  3. Pillars of Eternity
  4. Rehab
  5. Hail the Leaf
  6. Underneath Everything
  7. Eyes of the South
  8. Jail
  9. Losing All
  10. Stone the Crows
  11. Pray for the Locust
  12. Swan Song
  13. Bury Me in Smoke

Rating: 100%

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Australian Idol: 4th Finals Week

Australian Idol always had a Beatles night until last year, when the 20-something "music fanatics" that qualified for the show complained that their songs meant nothing to them, which to me is like a dramatist saying they don't care about Shakespeare or a film-maker not knowing who Kubrick was. Nevertheless, this year the specialist artist night honour fell to ABBA, who were the Beatles of Europop, really. To be honest, it's been a very long time since I've heard either group's music though it does seem like ABBA turns up a lot more on soundtracks and the likes of late, so it does seem more reasonable to assume that people under 30 might have actually heard some of their stuff.

Either way, I thought it was going to be a hurdle for almost everyone, and I was right.

First up was Chrislynn, approaching "Mama Mia" as a bit of a pisstake. The intent was fine but it rang a bit hollow and ended up a little underdone and Dicko was spot on (as usual) with his comments about her choice of wardrobe.

Obviously an ABBA fan, Thanh outdid himself with "The Winner Takes It All", easily his best effort yet. He didn't sound quite so much like a tryhard Farnham tonight, although he did do a song I could hear The Voice singing.

Sophie took "Gimme Gimme Gimme" and Tricky-ed it up. This is the style she's been trying to pull off ever since she entered the show and tonight it actually worked. Good for her.

Wes was a real surprise, not because he did a top-notch job but because he sang "Fernando". For a bloke who obviously isn't gay, this was rather bizarre but he's so good it just doesn't matter.

Roshani came out looking like she had a steel rod up her arse for a cabaret version of "Money Money Money". The corset was probably a bad move, even though she looked as hot as, because her performance suffered a bit from her not being able to move very much.

Mark admittedly hated the whole concept of doing an ABBA song, but nevertheless came out and rocked it up with a version of "Waterlood" that actually sounded a bit Noiseworks. Never a bad thing. Dicko ripped him apart which was vastly unfair because he really wasn't that bad.

Madam Parker is the only contestant who has actually been getting worse and worse each week, and the trend continued tonight. Another one who was admittedly spooked by doing ABBA, she tried a showtune-crossed-with-hip-hop-diva style on "Dancing Queen" and screwed it up royally. Time for her to depart, methinks.

The only other entrant who actually seemed to dig the whole ABBA concept, Teale is nonetheless still "just there" for me, and probably always will be. He was a bit better tonight, doing "Thank You For the Music" as an acoustic pop-rock thing.

Finally, as the most unlikeliest singer of an ABBA song ever, Shearer Luke knew he had something to prove tonight, but even though he flubbed the words halfway through, his raspy-voiced rock take on "Knowing Me, Knowing You" wasn't bad at all.

Despite most of them being a bit uncomfortable with the whole idea, Madam was clearly the worst tonight. From one of the best to undeniably the worst, if she manages to hang on again tomorrow it won't be for much longer.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

ARISE FROM THORNS: Beneath an Audience of Stars

Released: 1999

A few days ago I was asked to recommend an obscure band on a forum at and I suggested Brave, whose album Searching for the Sun I was listening to at the time. Before they were Brave however, they existed in a previous incarnation that I liked even more.

Arise From Thorns was a five piece from Washington, DC, that explored a musical direction more favoured by the likes of The Gathering and, perhaps more specifically, The 3rd And The Mortal. Before an Audience of Stars was their only album, originally released in 1999 before surfacing again two years later on Dark Symphonies. This version is a sprawling 14-song, 65-minute epic collection of dark, progressive, avant garde music that is deeply-structured and mainly acoustic in nature that draws heavily from a distinctly Celtic folk background, touching base with the likes of Dead Can Dance, Tori Amos, Björk, Trial of the Bow, the more ethereal moments of The Gathering's current musical slant and even The Cure, but without the strident electronic and electric elements of some of those artists.

AFT instead concentrates on the ingredients of Scott Loose's acoustic guitar and sister Michelle's melodious voice with only the very occasional intrusion of a heavier element -- as in the sprawling ten-minute "The Red and the Black" -- creating a strongly emotional and rather beautiful album. Describing this as "metal" is a bit of a stretch, really, although this has a cult following among some metalheads. This album is very hard to find now, but it enjoys a devotion that is rather well deserved.

  1. Dreaming
  2. Time Alone
  3. Among the Leaves
  4. I Can't Believe
  5. Lure
  6. Surrender
  7. Remember the Stars
  8. Lovelorn
  9. Persia
  10. The Red and the Black
  11. Blue Skies
  12. To Dance by Moonlight
  13. The Calling
  14. Return of the Old Forest

Rating: 90%

Friday, October 3, 2008

ARKHETH: Hymns of a Howling Wind

Produced by Arkheth

Released: 2003

Arkheth came from Orange, NSW, formed from the remnants of a previous band called Eternal Dark. They hung around for a short time, released this, played a few minor festivals and then disappeared. Now back in business again, it will be interesting to see if any kind of development in their approach has occured since "Hymns of a Howling Wind".

The minimalist artwork and ambiguous band logo that could be read as Urkhets or any number of other things immediately labels this as a black metal release, and the tracks won’t leave the listener with any other interpretation either. While the production values are rather noteworthy and certainly well beyond what one can normally expect from a debut underground release, Hymns of a Howling Wind is really little more than a young band emulating their heroes without bringing much of themselves to what they’re doing. “Euphoric Gardens of Algaresh” is the standard ambient intro, “Eternal” the typical instrumental closing piece and the five tracks in between really just play it by numbers with multi-layered keyboards, thin, buzzing guitar tones, grim, occasionally shrieky vocals and eloquently contrived song titles.

It isn’t bad by any means, but it’s very far from original, over-stepping the same well-trodden ground that hundreds of others have packed solid. That wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing in itself, but Arkheth doesn’t really seem to bring any flair or real inspiration to what they do to make them stand out, even a little bit, from the crowd.

  1. Euphoric Gardens of Algaresh
  2. Hymn of the Howling Wind
  3. Parody of the Forgotten
  4. Winter's Tears
  5. In Awe of the Night Sky
  6. Cloud of a Thousand Fires
  7. Eternal

Rating: 50%