Saturday, January 16, 2010

EDEMA: Default

Released: 2009
Edema is a heavy band from Italy, a country whose metal scene, rather like that of France, seems to be burgeoning but not well appreciated outside the county itself beyond obvious participants like Lacuna Coil and Rhapsody of Fire. Default is the first album from this eclectic Piacentini four piece and strikes an interesting balance between divergent styles.

This band's music has been categorised as almost everything from deathcore (which is most certainly isn't) to post-metal (which is also isn't) to nu-metal (vaguely) to progressive death metal, and even that doesn't really seem very accurate. The harsh and garbled vocals are the most significantly death metal aspect in Edema's sound, which draws from a lot of influences and makes for an interesting if somewhat contrived listen, as no two songs are much alike. It's as if the band has made every conceivable effort to make every song they do as stylistically different to the one before.

"Crawling Unseen" begins the album with the buzzing of flies before a similarly buzzing guitar line plays out alongside a stumbling riff, then deviates through alterna-prog style slap-bass and polyrhythmic interludes with half-sung, indistinct vocals. "Generator" is a much more straight-forward death/thrash track until a quieter, jangly section two-thirds in. With "Purchasing Your Own Illness" you can see where the nu-metal reference comes from right down to the title, the heavily bass-driven plod and the Korn-style breakdown; the wandering, genre-defying "Onirical" sounds something like a cross between Meshuggah and Skinlab. Then there's "My Sweetest Whore" which is an almost structure-less, time-signature defying death metal song! It is, quite honestly, an album full of surprises, a pot-pourri of styles and influences. The slightly muddy production lets it down a little though and by dropping noodly passages with half-spoken vocals into a song like the title track in a way that Pantera and Machine Head totally wouldn't do it, it's clear that Edema is sometimes trying too hard to be progressive at the expense of truly good hooks.

Nonetheless, Default is only the band's debut album and few bands get everything right first time. They aren't afraid to mix things up and certainly have some good ideas. The vocals need work however if anyone's ever to make sense of them and they will need to tweak their songs in future to make them a little more memorable. Certainly worth a listen though.

  1. Crawling Unreason
  2. Generator
  3. Onirical
  4. Default
  5. Purchasing Your Own Illness
  6. My Sweetest Whore
  7. Unequal Desease

Rating: 68%

Monday, January 11, 2010

SLAYER: World Painted Blood

Produced by Greg Fidelman
Released October 30, 2009

It may come as a surprise to some readers of this blog to learn that Slayer has never been one of my favourite bands. I've never failed to see them live when I've had the chance, I still wear a shirt I got from their 1998 tour, I've always checked out their albums (although I skipped about the last decade's worth and apparently haven't missed that much), and I won't deny their influence on metal and outright awesomeness at what they do. It's just that whenever I've had to think about a list of ten or twenty bands that I like most, Slayer has never featured. Hell, I even suggested that Reign in Blood might not actually be the greatest thrash album of all time. So my approach to a new Slayer album isn't the same as it would be to, say, a new Alchemist CD. That is, I don't go into it really anticipating anything one way or another. And with that said, after one listen through of World Painted Blood, I found myself really digging it enough to spin it a second time right away.

Of course there's going to be a section of Slayer's fanbase who will argue that they've once again failed to deliver, but there's always that element that seems to expect too much, especially when it comes to the idea of blokes in their late 40s being able to pull off the same rebellious energy they had in their early 20s. The truth is, there's something almost intimately familiar about World Painted Blood that people who over-analyse or over-expect are going to miss. Whether it's Tom Araya's frenzied unsung shouting (especially in "Psychopathy Red" when he sounds like he's gone insane), the bursts of guitar savagery in places you don't expect them to be, Dave Lombardo's Heruclean drum fusillade or lyrics that shamelessly veer from the meaningless, cartoonish violence of "Beauty Through Order" to surprisingly incisive social commentary like "Americon" without any sense of irony, World Painted Blood has it all.

This is the most brutal Slayer album in ages: "Psychopathy Red" is absolutely crushing and in its frantic riffing "Unit 731" ends up sounding a little like "Reborn". There's a non-linear structure apparent in a lot of the tracks, with unexpected time- and tempo- changes and haphazard arrangements that also recall their earlier days. Yet for every neckbreaking thrash assault like "Snuff" or "Hate Worldwide" there's a mid-paced groove track like "Beauty Through Order" and "Human Strain" with their interesting uses of dynamics and control, or "Americon" that almost has a rock feel. Near the end is "Playing With Dolls", an experimental track that doesn't quite come off and one that will perhaps be the most contentious inclusion on an album that in every respect really is a mixed bag. Production-wise, the drums are forward in the mix, just to remind everyone that the key to Slayer's relentless assault is Dave Lombardo's furious and precise timekeeping. The solos of course are nothing special and the themes are mainly comic book violence and the usual serving of Kerry King's Christbaiting bullshit, but no one ever listened to Slayer for lyrical depth.

World Painted Blood seems to be aiming for the middle ground between Slayer's classic thrash period and their later groove era. Fans who only like their old stuff will only like about half the album and fans of their last few albums will like the other half. Everyone else will probably take it or leave it, even though this is easily the best Slayer album since Divine Intervention.

  1. World Painted Blood
  2. Unit 731
  3. Snuff
  4. Beauty Through Order
  5. Hate Worldwide
  6. Public Display of Dismemberment
  7. Human Strain
  8. Americon
  9. Psychopathy Red
  10. Playing With Dolls
  11. Not of This God

Rating: 78%

Thursday, January 7, 2010

HELLOWEEN: Unarmed - Best of 25th Anniversary

Produced by Charlie Bauerfeind
Released: 29 January

Have you ever been slapped in the face by someone you love? If you're a Helloween fan, that's what this album is like. More than once over the course of their storied career, Helloween has left their audience wondering as to what the Hell they had been thinking. While they've pretty much led the European power metal brigade since arriving on the scene, after Kai Hansen left back in '89 they churned out Pink Bubbles Go Ape and Chameleon, albums so oddly un-Helloween they've left fans scratching their heads in amazement ever since. The former of the pair is just bad heavy metal but perhaps forgiveable for a band recovering from having its creative heart ripped out; the latter an oddball collection of experiments in all sorts of musical styles that was virtually not metal at all.

Considering Chameleon almost ended the band and remains the most reviled of their albums by both critics and fans, it's difficult to understand the reasoning behind Unarmed. Helloween isn't beyond some experimentation from time to time, but above and beyond everything else, they're the world's best known power metal band. People like them because they play power metal! So what does this most revered and fanatically-followed arch-power metal band do to celebrate 25 years as a recording artist? With obviously little thought to the idea that it is, in fact, a really bad idea, they kick off Unarmed with an acoustic pop-rock version of "Dr Stein" -- with a horns section! Seriously, how could they top that? Well, how about taking the huge booming drums and galloping guitars completely out of "Eagle Fly Free" and turning it into an acoustic ballad? I won't even mention what they've done to "I Want Out". It's almost as if someone abducted Helloween and replaced them with a second-rate Eurovision entrant from Belarus. It really is that bad. If this is supposed to be a thank you to the fans, I'd hate to see what an insult would be like.

Somewhat amazingly, however, "The Keeper's Trilogy", a 17-minute orchestral medley of "Halloween", "Keeper of the 7 Keys" and "The King for a 1000 Years" is actually pretty good, mainly because they translate well to a symphonic treatment due to their original epic nature. It doesn't save the rest of the album though, because the rest of it is harebrained beyond imagining.

  1. Dr Stein
  2. Future World
  3. If I Could Fly
  4. Where the Rain Grows
  5. The Keeper's Trilogy (Halloween/Keeper of the 7 Keys/The King For a 1000 Years)
  6. Eagle Fly Free
  7. Perfect Gentleman
  8. Forever & One
  9. I Want Out
  10. Fallen to Pieces
  11. A Tale That Wasn't Right

Rating: 35%