Saturday, January 31, 2009

METALLICA: Death Magnetic

Produced by Rick Rubin

Released: 2008

After twenty years, Metallica has finally made an album that I can listen to all the way through without getting bored or skipping tracks. Almost. I'm left aghast at how anyone could have thought the directionless instrumental "Suicide and Redemption" needed to be ten minutes long, and why "The Unforgiven III" was a good idea. But at least the rest of the tracks make up for them. Like just about everyone else who came through the 80s listening to Metallica, I really wasn't getting very excited about Death Magnetic, what with its stupid title and the inconceivably awful mess that proceeded it.

There was a lot riding on this album, Metallica knew that. St. Anger may have been a huge commercial success, but five years on remains one of the most critically reviled rock albums ever and with good reason. For a band with a reputation for incredible arrogance, Metallica seems to have realised that another disaster like that would put an end to them and set about trying to revitalise. With Death Magnetic, they have come close to completely succeeding. It's not a total triumph as the two examples I've already cited show, but it's easily the best thing they've done in a long time and certainly one of the best albums of 2008.

With Rick Rubin providing a lean, dry and bare production, Metallica sounds energetic again. Lars still plods along doing just what's needed to drive the songs, and Robert Trujillo's bass is way down low in the mix so that, like his predecessor, he's virtually making up the numbers. But Hammett and Hetfield shine. Kirk Hammett is indeed this album's big surprise. He simply hasn't sounded so vital and frantic since Ride the Lightning, and maybe not even then. After being left off the last album, Hammett shows what a foolish idea that was, unleashing solos I didn't think he was capable of. Hetfield's back to his best, bringing back his spiteful bark and snarl and he's remembered how to write meaningful lyrics again, although there are some clunkers here and there. That most of the tracks are an examination of mortality is no real surprise for such a death-obsessed band either. Back too are the wrist-breaking riffs and epic, epic songs. Intros become jams then bust out into parts that sound like different songs before jamming and coming back to where they started. It's almost like the two decades since ...And Justice for All never happened.

Metallica have still to fully redeem themselves as they'll need another album at least as good or better than this to do that, but silly name and all, Death Magnetic is a return to the band's glorious past, and it doesn't even sound forced. As I've mentioned before, the "black album" may have been the album they needed to make, but this is what they should have done next.

Welcome back.

  1. That was Just Your Life
  2. The End of the Line
  3. Broken, Beat & Scarred
  4. The Day That Never Comes
  5. All Nightmare Long
  6. Cyanide
  7. The Unforgiven III
  8. The Judas Kiss
  9. Suicide & Redemption
  10. My Apocalypse

Rating: 92%

Saturday, January 24, 2009


Produced by Stanley Soares and Sepultura
Released: Yesterday

Sepultura's catalogue has been consistenty and increasingly ignored since Max Cavalera walked out on them more than a decade ago despite the fact that the majority of it is still pretty good. Andreas Kisser still cooks up insanely catchy and groovy riffs and Derrick Green's lyrics are possibly even better than those of the man he replaced. Yet while they remain popular, particularly on the live front where they can crush almost anyone, they have also become marginalised, bumped long ago from the label that made them and suffering lower and lower album sales since.
Coupled with that, Cavalera spent last year rubbing the salt into the wounds of his previous band with a pair of albums that rank with the best things he's done; Inflikted sounds more like Sepultura than Sepultura has since 1996. So to attain some form of relevance, this now completely Cavalera-free quartet really needed to pull something out of the box with A-Lex.

They have not succeeded.

Conceptually based around Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange, A-Lex fails to fire on many levels. Essentially this is an attempt to expand on the musical direction of Dante XXI, with instrumental tracks and classical elements, but it just doesn't work. Most of the songs are built around similar Meshuggah-like riffs to the point where it's difficult to tell one from the next. Yet while Meshuggah can actually do this and somehow make it interesting, Sepultura does not, making A-Lex a turgid and interminable listen. Seven or eight songs go by that all sound like the same one, and a not-very-interesting one at that. Without Iggor Cavalera, the drumming has no flair and Kisser's one-dimensional mosh groove is simply uninspiring. Green, as usual, lives up to his end of the bargain but he isn't enough to save it here. Only "Ludwig van" where the guys break out into Beethoven's 5th is any kind of highlight.

A-Lex is nothing but a cobbled together mess. It's not hard to believe that the guys threw this together as some kind of answer to Inflikted, but if that's so, they forgot what the question was.

  1. A-Lex I
  2. Moloko Mesto
  3. Filthy Rot
  4. We've Lost You
  5. What I Do!
  6. A-Lex II
  7. The Treatment
  8. Metamorphosis
  9. Sadistic Values
  10. Forceful Behavior
  11. Conform
  12. A-Lex III
  13. The Experiment
  14. Strike
  15. Enough Said
  16. Ludwig van
  17. A-Lex IV
  18. Paradox

Rating: 30%

Monday, January 19, 2009

MASSAPPEAL: Nobody Likes a Thinker

Released: 1986

The mid-80s was a turbulent time on the Sydney music scene. Thrash metal was just beginning to take a hold on the consciousness of the metalheads and in the chaos of the punk scene things were also changing. American-style hardcore was about to have an impact on how punk looked and sounded, and a bunch of surfers and skaters with blond tips and Metallica t-shirts was bringing it on. Massappeal entered the maelstrom with a sound the punks and skins adored but a look they hated, but, like the Hard Ons they just didn't care. Like them, they were just some dudes who could barely play their instruments, making music they loved. But unlike the Punchbowl trio, Massappeal had no pop sensibilities at all. And while Sydney's metal freaks would come to love Massappeal as much as the punks, there's nothing metal whatsoever about "Nobody Likes a Thinker".

This is furious thrashing punk energy at its most primal, a grinding, noisy swirl of out-of-tune guitars and indecipherable, shouted vocals. "Can't Forget" has a tiny element of groove, but that's about it. The seven tracks represented here are raw, full-blown early hardcore without pretensions, dynamics, melody or production. It's a complete overload of energy and volume that few other bands could match even today. Fans of modern metal with its glossy finish and melody lines won't know what to make of this, but those who want to get their hands dirty in some of the best hardcore punk ever made simply need to find this, a task that was made easier in 2006 when Chatterbox released a 2-CD version that also included the "Bar of Life" double A-side (featuring "Fun Again", one of the most intense pieces of music of all time), demo material and a roughly-recorded live show from the band's Canberra gig with DRI during which Randy Reimann apparently heckled some skinheads until they went crazy and smashed up the place.

If that isn't classic, nothing is.

  1. Rat in a Hole
  2. Can't Forget
  3. I.V. Me
  4. Deadheads
  5. Forgiving
  6. Pissed on Life
  7. Beginning of a Hurt

Rating: 95%

2006 version:

CD 1:

  1. Rat in a Hole
  2. Can't Forget
  3. I.V. Me
  4. Deadheads
  5. Forgiving
  6. Pissed on Life
  7. Beginning of a Hurt
  8. Fun Again
  9. Are You Alright?
  10. Elitist Shit
  11. Rat in a Hole (demo)
  12. Fun Again (demo)
  13. Can't Forget (demo)
  14. Illness (demo)
  15. No Seduction (demo)
  16. Deadheads (demo)
  17. Are You Alright? (demo)
  18. I.V. Me (demo)
  19. Pissed On Me (demo)

CD 2:

  1. What I Want (live)
  2. No Seduction (live)
  3. Illness (live)
  4. If I Don't (live)
  5. Scream of Desperation (live)
  6. Elitist Shit (live)
  7. Balance (live)
  8. Damage Zone (live)
  9. Rat in a Hole (live)
  10. Forgiving (live)
  11. New One (live)
  12. No Light No Shadow (live)
  13. Can't Forget (live)
  14. Deadheads (live)
  15. Degenerated (live)
  16. Mosmanised (live)
  17. Time (live)
  18. Can't Face Reality (live)
  19. I.V. Me (live)
  20. Every Time I Open Up (live)

Friday, January 16, 2009

DUNGEON: One Step Beyond

Produced by Lord Tim

Delving into their melting-pot of influences, Dungeon came up with eight tracks of pure metal class on One Step Beyond. Even amid drastic line-up changes, one of Australia’s top true metal forces was able to unleash a solid and fitting follow-up to A Rise to Power, one of the very best Australian metal albums of all.

As their second truly international release, there was a lot riding on this, and the band showed they were up to the task immediately with “The Power Within” opening proceedings with a crunching guitar sound and some effective European-style multipart vocal harmonies building a catchy chorus, aspects that are mirrored strongly in the next track “Against the Wind”. “The Art of War” is a real stand out, the first song from the album to feature in live sets and retaining all of its glory in its studio form, showing the further flowering of Dungeon’s more thrash metal direction. That move is near-perfected in the blistering “Surface Tension” and its Gothenburg-inspired guitar melodies. The more introspective “The Hunger” is nicely positioned between these two, the closest this band is ever got to a real ballad. On the other side of “Surface Tension” is the pirate epic “Terrano del Mar”, a true highlight with its somewhat elaborate arrangement that infused all of Dungeon’s stylistic flirtations. The title track blazes a trail of smoke as the band lays rubber like never before and the album ends on another high note as Dungeon dives into Australian history for inspiration with “Under the Cross”, an epically-structured piece that tells the tale of the Eureka Stockade in the 150th anniversary year of that event.

As usual Dungeon weren’t reinventing the wheel here but One Step Beyond is wildly catchy heavy metal that features typically breathtaking, wrist-breaking guitar work and simply great songs. The rather flat, lifeless drumming is a little bit of a downer however. At times too, the album was in danger of being over-produced, lacking something of the immediacy of its predecessors. Nonetheless, anything bearing the Dungeon name was nothing less than quality and that is true of this album as well. An album for metal fans everywhere.

  1. The Power Within
  2. Against the Wind
  3. The Art of War
  4. The Hunger
  5. Surface Tension
  6. Terrano del Mar
  7. One Step Beyond
  8. Under the Cross
  9. Epilogue

Rating: 90%

Saturday, January 10, 2009

GUNS N' ROSES: Chinese Democracy

Produced by W. Axl Rose and Caram Costanzo

Released: 2008

I was tossing up whether to even bother reviewing this album but in the end I decided that it would almost be remiss of me not to do so. With almost a decade and a half of hype and expectation behind it, Chinese Democracy is without doubt the most anticipated album in history and trying to look at it with an open mind is virtually impossible.

In many ways Chinese Democracy is rather like the rock music equivalent of Heaven's Gate: a long delayed, massively over-budget ego-project that was underwhelmingly received when finally released. There are significant differences with Michael Cimino's turgid and ill-fated 1980 Western however, not the least of which is that Chinese Democracy is a far better record than Heaven's Gate is a film. At the same time, this is not a particularly groundbreaking album and certainly isn't the indomitable classic release that a recording that took as long as this to make -- with the people who helped to make it -- should be. Yet, while it might not stand the test of time the way Appetite for Destruction or the Use Your Illusion albums have done, this is actually a very good album.

One of the most oft-heard criticisms of Chinese Democracy is that it doesn't sound like Guns n' Roses; while it's true that Slash's signature raw dirty blues guitar tone is missing, anything with Axl Rose singing on it is going to sound like Guns n' Roses. And this does, only it sounds like the overdramatic parts of the Use Your Illusion albums with tape-loops, hip-hop beats, nu-metal parts and industrial stuff added to it. Axl's sneaky little coda to that album, "My World", practically pre-sages the first and title track of this, a stomping pseudo-industrial rocker with a mean lead riff stolen directly from "Owner of a Lonely Heart" by Yes. "Shackler's Revenge" opens with a tired-sounding nu-metal motif that shows how long these songs have been around for, and then "Better" kicks off by mining hip-hop for inspiration before taking a sharp right into sleazeball rock. Driven by Dizzy Reed's piano, "Street of Dreams" is the first track that really displays Chinese Democracy's true sound, coming across as it does like a sequel to "Estranged" but, in spite of the ludicrous amount of production and the fact it now takes five guitarists to do what two once did, the album never actually sounds as pompous as some of the stuff on UYI.

Yes, "There Was a Time" has strings and a choir and stupid amounts of guitar and a bunch of other stuff going on, but somehow it all just seems to work. And "Scraping" and "IRS" show that underneath all the gloss, the walls of keys, sub-bass snarling and masses of guitar-shred, there is still a very angry rock beast. Indeed, like all their previous albums, Chinese Democracy is driven by Axl's demons, his despair, his rage and his self-indulgent, my-way-or-no-way, middle-finger-wagging defiance. It may have taken seven times longer than anyone expected for it to come out, but this is Axl's music, Axl's way and he clearly doesn't care if you like it or not.

  1. Chinese Democracy
  2. Shackler's Revenge
  3. Better
  4. Street of Dreams
  5. If the World
  6. There Was a Time
  7. Catcher in the Rye
  8. Scraped
  9. Riad n' the Bedouins
  10. Sorry
  11. IRS
  12. Madagascar
  13. This I Love
  14. Prostitute

Rating: 90%

Thursday, January 8, 2009

ARCH ENEMY: Doomsday Machine

Produced by Rikard Bengtsson

Released: 2005

As I've said before, I really like Arch Enemy and by the time of this album they had been one of the leading acts on the European metal front for quite some time, with a combination of catchiness, technicality and songwriting strength that supported their reputation. However, 2003’s Anthems of Rebellion fell pretty short of expectations and it was becoming clear that they needed a strong return to keep them amongst it. Doomsday Machine had been long anticipated both by fans eager for a return to form and detractors equally keen to see this technically masterful band fall on its own sword.

While the album doesn’t fully succeed on either level, it doesn’t completely fail, either: Doomsday Machine is an improvement on Anthems..., but falls rather short of the standard they set with Burning Bridges and Wages of Sin. There is plenty of good things about the album. Overall, this is a heavier and darker Arch Enemy than previously. Angela Gossow delivers her most convincing performances yet, Daniel Erlandsson’s drum-work is faultless and the songs maintain an intricate technicality and melody while adapting something of a modern thrash feel.

The opening intro “Enter the Machine” is Iron Maiden worship at its height and the next track “Taking Back My Soul” offers everything one has come to expect from this band, with the added bonus of Italian guitar genius Gus G laying down some fretboard wizardry. “Nemesis” is fine also and “My Apocalypse” is a genuine highlight with its slower, atmospheric riffing and a truly stand-out vocal from Gossow (though to be honest, anyone would sound good with that much filtering on their voice). From this point on, however, Doomsday Machine starts to sound really repetitive. Not only does the band begin to regurgitate ideas from previous releases, they start to recycle songs from the first half of the album.

There are stand-out moments throughout and much to like regardless, but there was an unshakeable feeling here that after falling flat with the last album, Arch Enemy is just playing it safe. They certainly hadn’t lost the plot in the way Soilwork or In Flames had done, but they did need to rekindle the creative juices that made their first four albums true stand-outs.

  1. Enter the Machine
  2. Taking Back My Soul
  3. Nemesis
  4. My Apocalypse
  5. Carry the Cross
  6. I Am Legend/Out for Blood
  7. Skeleton Dance
  8. Hybrids of Steel
  9. Mechanic God Creation
  10. Machtkampf
  11. Slaves of Yesterday

Rating: 68%

Sunday, January 4, 2009


Released: 2006

It would have been easy to completely write-off Resection as yet another boneheaded gutteral death metal band if it wasn’t for several intrinsic differences. First of all the production is quite good, giving the band a truly blasting sound and giving the guitars something more of a thrash edge than the blunt, indefinable burping some similar bands employ in an effort to sound as heavy as possible. Even the drums sound alive, pounded furiously by Henning Paulsen who is now with the awful Brodequin. While their grasp of English is less than perfect, lyrically this German three piece explores some thought-provoking ideas about the destruction of the environment and the erosion of civil liberties, among other things.

In truth, however, it wouldn’t matter if they were singing Latvian borscht recipes in Estonian, because the vocals are merely a collection of gutteral barks, rasps and shouts that are completely unintelligible. And while some of the riffs are actually quite catchy, there simply isn’t enough of them and they all start to sound very alike very quickly. Resection rip through their songs with a fiendish ferocity that in the end feels like you’ve been standing too close to a jackhammer for half an hour. Zenith offers nothing new but for what it is it’s actually not half bad, even if it will appeal strictly to fans of unrestrained brutality.

  1. The Manhattan Project
  2. Sambiki Saru or the Three No-Evil Monkeys
  3. Effect on My Inner Conflict
  4. Dehydration of an Industrial Land
  5. Intolerance and Ban
  6. Preprogrammed End
  7. From Murder to Genocide
  8. Pursuit of Illusion
  9. Putative Unison

Rating: 51%

Saturday, January 3, 2009

LEICOHTICA: The Balance of Fire

Produced by Grant Luhrs and Leicohtica
Released: 2007

Leicohtica’s first EP was a shambolic mishmash of hackneyed ideas barely cobbled together with some underdone production. When I saw them live they didn’t seem much better, coming across like – to paraphrase an old friend of mine – a lot of things moving without getting anywhere. Almost two years later this Wagga seven-piece delivered this full length album. The ideas on The Balance of Fire are still far from their own, but the delivery has improved by orders of magnitude.

The album opens with an intro piece that’s little more than a bell tolling, an idea that’s so overused it’s not even a cliché anymore and from here Leicohtica moves into more familiar territory but at least they’re now exploring it with a little more skill. The vocals and arrangements were what really let them down before and it’s something they’ve certainly worked on since their roughshod debut. Ditto for the songwriting, which while still taking very heavy cues from Cradle of Filth and Dimmu Borgir, now has far more cohesion. Only two songs (“Dark Autumn Rain” and “Black Widows, White Lullaby”) reappear from the previous release, and both have been tweaked sufficiently to fit into the frame in which the band now stands. Most importantly, the use of three vocalists by any band is a difficult trick to juggle but this time around Leicohtica has managed to pull it off, with Chris Orchard and Jennifer McAffrie’s both much stronger than previously.

Musically, Leicohtica presents a mixture of melodic symphonic black metal and Gothic aspects, with some outstanding bass playing evident, highlighted particularly in the acoustic passages. The production is also strong. In the end, The Balance of Fire is a giant step up for Leicohtica.

  1. Intro: A Prelude to Chaos
  2. Never
  3. Where Daemons Conspire
  4. A Prototype Soul
  5. The Balance of Fire
  6. Interlude: Broken in Time
  7. Dark Autumn Rain
  8. Beneath Torn Glass
  9. A Rose for the Dead
  10. Black Widows White Lullaby
  11. Brother Nosferatu
  12. The New Design
  13. Outro: A Final Dirge

Rating: 72%

Friday, January 2, 2009

INTERNECINE EXCORIATION: Prognosticate the Decrepitude

Released: 2006

Queensland’s Internecine Excoriation (loose translation: mutually destructive defleshing) has quite possibly the most contrived band name in musical history and they’ve managed to couple it with a bio laden with prose so purple it could have almost come from Lovecraft himself, or at the very least from one of the guys in Portal, whose guitarist Aphotic takes a co-production credit on their equally wordily-titled EP. Fortunately, the CD itself defines them far better than any ridiculously pretentious bio.

A somewhat overly-long intro of noises and screams leads into relentless, slab-like death metal that crawls inexorably like an immense, gurgling behemoth mercilessly laying waste to all before it. Then with a sudden burst of blast-beat driven speed, with track two it becomes a monstrous, similarly gurgling assault before “Comatose Autopsy” opens with an enormous riff so ponderous it’s virtually in slow motion. This is scary stuff, death metal with a malevolent atmosphere and a sense of truly evil purpose, like the soundtrack to a horror film you can only wish someone could make. Imagine something like a cross between diSEMBOWELMENT and early Morbid Angel and you begin to get the idea.

With sparse production and accompanied by indistinct and murky artwork, Internecine Excoriation has created a crawling, lurching horror that marks them as something to watch in the area of dark and disturbing death metal.

  1. Eclipsed Minions
  2. Hacksaw Caesarian
  3. Comatose Autopsy
  4. Abortuary Debris
  5. Desolate

Rating: 68%