Saturday, December 18, 2010

HELLOWEEN: 7 Sinners

Produced by Charle Bauerfeind
Released: November 2010

The first thing that strikes you about the new Helloween album is how heavy it is. It's almost worth forgiving them for the ridiculous Unarmed if that's what it took for them to get as heavy as this. The second thing is how metal it is. Just how goddamn METAL is this album? Skip straight to the fourth track, "Raise the Noise", revel in the seriously savage riffarama going on and then listen in astonishment at the goddamn rampaging flute solo! That's how fucking METAL this album is, there's flutes where guitars should be. Helloween has always had the temerity to do whatever they please, and this time it works.

7 Sinners is a great heavy metal album. If "Are You Metal?" was written as a response to all those who wondered what the fuck Unarmed was, then the rest of the tracks are Helloween's affirmation that they are, indeed, metal. By the time "Raise the Noise" comes around, the band has decided that restraint is no longer required and they are churning out what is easily the heaviest stuff they've ever done, without compromising their incredible grasp on melody and hooks nor their knack for storytelling. What is frequently overlooked with Helloween's lyrics is how thought-provoking they often are and many of the songs follow the lyrical theme suggested by the album title: avarice and lust. "If A Mountain Could Talk" and "You Stupid Mankind" make telling and topical points about humanity's rapacious wastefulness and "The Sage, the Fool, the Sinner" is a murky little tale about murder and greed. They haven't forgotten their quirky side (the aforementioned flute solo) or their past (the shadow of "Perfect Gentleman" in the intro to "Who is Mr Madman?") either, nor the classic power metal they're best known for ("Long Live the King") and the final track hints at a darkness in tone and style that's rare for them. Andi Deris shines, but here it's hard to find to someone who doesn't. The drums are massive, the riffs and solos are huge and the song-writing and hooks are as strong as you'd expect from a band who are masters of the game.

As someone who has always been less than a massive fan of Helloween, 7 Sinners was damn impressive and by the end of it I even found myself going back to re-acquaint myself with their earlier stuff. A sterling effort.

1. Where the Sinners Go
2. Are You Metal?
3. Who is Mr Madman?
4. Raise the Noise
5. World of Fantasy
6. Long Live the King
7. The Smile of the Sun
8. You Stupid Mankind
9. If a Mountain Could Talk
10. The Sage, the Fool, the Sinner
11. My Sacrifice
12. Not Yet Today
13. Far in the Future

Rating: 92%

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

SHELLFIN: Second Hand Family

Produced by Shellfin
Released: 2010

A casual listen to Shellfin's debut could give you the impression that Second Hand Family is just one long track. Because essentially that's just what it is: a loose, semi-structured jam that even sounds like it was recorded in one take, with lyrics and vocals an afterthought to the enormously grooving riffs.

Like Kyuss, the band they originally formed to salute, Shellfin is a jam band that allows the music to dictate the path they take and how long it takes to get there. As the album progresses it becomes a series of jams-within-jams as the various members break into extended improvs that turn around on a timely fill from drummer Geeks back to the main riff or go in another direction altogether. The lyrics have a similar train-of-thought quality about them and the vocals have that deliciously slightly off-key aspect that only works for stoner bands. Like they say in their promo material, this is not about smoking weed but being immersed and entranced by heavy grooves, and the deeper you go, the more immersed and entranced you become. Some albums this long begin to feel like an ordeal just over halfway through, but Second Hand Family never loses its grip for the entire trip. Then fifteen minutes after the end of "Intervening Time" the hidden track "Of Bowels and Breath" rises from the silence on an immense, sinister riff so sludge-ridden it could have come from the bottom of the sea.

This infectiously likeable groove is available only through, for the very special price of whatever you feel like paying! And this deserves far more than small change. Shellfin don't really do anything that Kyuss hasn't done already, but these guys are our own, doing it with integrity, so they deserve support.

1. The Extent of It
2. Cruzzin
3. In the Head
4. Short Spew
5. Hedgehog
6. Fleishgeist
7. What's That Smell?
8. The Intervening Time

Rating: 90%

Monday, December 6, 2010

DEATH ANGEL: Relentless Retribution

Produced by Jason Suecof
Released: August 2010

It's been a couple of years since Death Angel graced us with a new album, but considering the upheaval and turmoil that has surrounded the group in the last decade, we should be thankful they've given us an album at all. And we should indeed be thankful, because Relentless Retribution is another sterling effort from the most over-looked of the trash pioneers.

This doesn't hold up to the likes of Exodus and Overkill's 2010 efforts, being somewhat uneven overall. It suffers a little through the middle and due to some strange track-listing choices, but nevertheless it helps to remind us what a great band Death Angel is with their idiosyncratic take on metal. The thrashing starts immediately and ferociously as Mark Osegueda exhorts us to join him or die in "Relentless Revolution". He hasn't neglected the cerebral side of his songwriting with a mixture of empowering and topical lyrics across the set. Unfortunately the album is let down by a few unremarkable songs like "Truce" and "River of Rapture" and the near-Triviumising they suffer in "Claws so Deep". That track ends with an extended coda from guests Rodrigo y Gabriela and as cool as that is, I couldn't help but feel that it actually interrupted the flow of the album just as it was getting going and may well have been much better as a segue into the oddly Black Label Society-like ballad "Volcanic" later on. Still, this is Death Angel so it's going to have real standouts, and in that area "Opponents at Sides" with its combination of meaty thrash and healthy groove and "Into the Arms of Righteous Anger" certainly fit the bill. The sinister "Absence of Light" is also a clear highlight, making Relentless Retribution a bit of a mixed bag and Jason Suecof's production gives the band's music a modern sound with a commercial edge that will no doubt be a sore point with some fans.

This is a good album from Death Angel without being a great one, and we know they're capable of those. Perhaps if Osegueda and Cavestany can keep the same crew together into the future we'll see a real return to form.

1. Relentless Revolution
2. Claws in So Deep
3. Truce
4. Into the Arms of Righteous Anger
5. River of Rapture
6. Absence of Light
7. This Hate
8. Death of the Meek
9. Opponents at Sides
10. I Chose the Sky
11. Volcanic
12. Where They Lay

Rating: 72%

Sunday, December 5, 2010

LORD: Return of the Tyrant

Produced by Lord Tim
Released: October 2010

If there's one band from this country that does epic well, it's LORD. So when they decide to record a sequel to the 2005 Dungeon track "Tarranno del Mar", a long-standing live favourite, they don't just do an EP, they do an enormous EP that's even longer than their last two albums! To be fair, the original intention was to split this into two, but time and budget constraints forbade it, so "Return of the Tyrant" clocks in at a whopping 65 minutes, which ain't bad for a CD with only three new songs on it.

The first of these is the title track, an immense 10-minute saga into which LORD cram almost every trick they've ever pulled and then some: crunchy guitars, catchy riffs, soaring vocals, big melodies, huge solos, cheesy voice acting and finally an epic dose of orchestration that makes this perhaps the biggest sounding song this band has ever recorded. And that's saying a lot. If ever there was one song that could encapsulate a band, "Return of the Tyrant" is the one that represents LORD, and there's another two versions -- a radio edit and an orchestral one -- included just in case one isn't enough. The other pair of newies are covers. Both are relatively faithful to the originals and both show the band taking something of a departure from their usual style. "Of Sins and Shadows" is a Symphony X song and features extended keyboard soloing for the first time on a LORD recording. For such a guitar-oriented band, this is a refreshing change and works so well here, the question has to asked: will there be more in future? Next, they slip into melodic AOR mode for a run through the 80s classic "(I Just) Died in Your Arms Tonight" with vocals handled by bassist Andy Dowling. As always, the covers are done with aplomb and deep respect for the originals and show LORD's versatility.

If those songs are a departure, the rest of the tracks are a complete digression - unplugged versions of tracks from the past two LORD albums as well as of the Dungeon songs "Against the Wind" and "Paradise". For a band that has pretty much stayed completely away from acoustics in the past, you have to question whether they are capable of pulling this off. Metal songs don't always translate well to the unplugged format, and to a degree that's the case here too. "100 Reasons" and "Paradise" misfire, but the others come across well: "Rain" has some great guitar play-off that actually reminded me a little bit of Tommy Emmanuel's Up From Down Under, and "New Horizons" is probably better done this way than in its original form. Considering how heavy it is normally, "Eternal Storm" somehow works too.

Overall this is a pretty valid experiment that really shows the depth of talent LORD has and the risks they are willing to take in the name of their music.

1. Return of the Tyrant
2. Of Sins and Shadows
3. (I Just) Died in Your Arms Tonight
4. Against the Wind
5. Rain
6. 100 Reasons
7. Paradise
8. Eternal Storm
9. New Horizons
10. Return of the Tyrant (orchestral mix)
11. Return of the Tyrant (edit)

Rating: 75%

Saturday, December 4, 2010

TERROR: Keepers of the Faith

Released: 2010

For the best part of the last decade, Terror has been keeping it real and keeping it honest, and on their latest blitzkrieg release they simply refuse to compromise that integrity to any degree whatsoever. Keepers the Faith has 13 tracks in just on 33 minutes, and hearkens back to the metallic hardcore glory days of Shai Hulud, Earth Crisis and Vision of Disorder.

The cover says it all: no frills, no bullshit. This is what the underground is all about. Here there's no melodic choruses or whiny vocals and no melodeath-style twin guitar harmonies. It's just simple, speedy punk beats, hard and fast, catchy riffs and slammin' breakdowns perfect for the pit. That's it. Scott Vogel delivers his lyrics as a spitfire string of unsung hard rhyme with no thought to busting out into choirboy-mode when the chorus rolls around. The guitars roar with a metallic fury with a spastic, rapid fire solo squeezed out here and there for a splash of colour.

If you want to know what metalcore sounded like before Atreyu ruined it, then Terror's your band.

1. Your Enemies Are Mine
2. Stick Tight
3. Return to Strength
4. The Struggle
5. Shattered
6. You're Caught
7. Dead Wrong
8. Keepers of the Faith
9. Stay Free
10. Hell and Back
11. Only Death
12. The New Blood
13. Defiant

Rating: 90%