Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Nightwish: Dark Passion Play (2007) Album Review

Dark Passion Play and its little brother Imaginaerum are, as an era, sandwiched between what I consider to be the two best Nightwish albums. Coming off Once, Tuomas continues to write a mixture of ambitiously diverse songs, packing in as many experiments and new tricks as he does straightforward tracks designed for radio. It isn't quite as stylistically fragmented as Imaginaerum, but Dark Passion Play also comes across somehow unrestrained. Or as if it is a compilation of some kind!

For example, as opposed to the solid hour of enjoyment this record's predecessor guarantees, I feel like 'The Islander' and '7 Days to the Wolves' belong on a different record to 'The Cadence of Her Last Breath' and 'Bye Bye Beautiful'. Which can take you out of the moment quite effectively. I mean I rarely listen to this through, and there's one song in particular I skip every time. It might be that, aside from having more good songs, the tracklist for Once was just so well planned that you didn't notice going from the industrial groove of 'Wish I Had an Angel' to the lush soundscapes of 'Creek Mary's Blood' in about ten minutes; but still, Dark Passion Play feels like it could have been decisively trimmed back to ten songs and made more sense.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Ronnie James Dio, RIP 16th May 2010: 17 of Dio's Most Underappreciated Songs

Five years since Dio died. It really doesn't seem that long. I can remember the mournful bus ride to work with the news fresh in my mind as if it were yesterday. This guy was and remains the most important voice in heavy metal as far as I'm concerned, and to mark a turbulent half decade since he passed, I wanted to take the chance to talk about a few songs that really don't get their due. Many of them are from his solo albums, which as many know faded from the spotlight somewhat as the fantastical heavy metal the band played retreated from popularity. But there's a few gems on Rainbow and Black Sabbath albums as well which I think ought to be talked about as much as his super-famous hits like 'Neon Knights' and 'Holy Diver'.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Nightwish: Endless Forms Most Beautiful (2015) Single Review

I initially found the second half of the new Nightwish album less of a big deal than the first, partly due to the queue of similiarly structured symphonic rock songs between 'My Walden' and 'The Eyes of Sharbat Gula', but dozens of listens have since found me loving the album throughout. Despite its ballsy chorus and huge groove, the album's title track and the new single is definitely one of the growers. In fact it has attracted quite a lot of hate - probably more than any other song on the album. Personally I think it's a terrific choice for a single.

The divide in opinion when it comes to this track isn't the only thing that puts it in a similiar camp to 'Wish I Had an Angel', 'Bye Bye Beautiful' and 'Amaranth' - it also has that monster groove going on like I mentioned. Both in the chugging riffs of the chorus, and the swaggering bounce of the main riff that makes 'Wish I Had an Angel' sound easygoing by comparison.

Nightwish: Endless Forms Most Beautiful (2015) Album Review

The musical style of these eleven new Nightwish songs is pretty diverse, and each track brings something fresh to the table, but generally the symphonic rock template of Once, Dark Passion Play and Imaginaerum returns. Lavished with rich folk instrumentation, streaks of thundering metal and groovy riffs of course.

I expected and asked for nothing less. It would have been obvious to most by now that Tuomas Holopainen's tastes are such that he was clearly more impressed by Idina Menzel belting out Frozen's much-loved 'Let it Go' than by the fact that Saxon is still recording career-beating albums so many decades in, and the band's lead composer stays the course for another album of anthemic and unbelievably catchy tracks. Well, good. After the two with Anette Olzon I was hoping for, at least, another few really infectious songs like 'I Want my Tears Back' and '7 Days to the Wolves', but with the incredible Floor Jansen on vocals. In the end, this turned out to be probably my album of 2015, provided Ningen Isu don't do anything before the year is out. This is Nightwish's clear best, equal with Once, which I've been listening to since a couple of months after it came out more than a decade ago, and have never become bored with even after easily hundreds of plays. Just to give you an idea how seriously good this is.

Nightwish: Élan (2015) Single Review

Nightwish seem to have very sensibly decided to start putting the album version up front on their single releases, rather than the edit. I like that, as there's often some way in which an edited version is castrated of some of the original song's glory - that's certainly the case here.

Anyway, ever since I sat at a coffee shop in the hot early hours of a Singapore morning in 2012 and read the news about Floor Jansen being brought in to replace Anette Olzon, I've been desperately anticipating the first studio recordings from the band with her. So the very morning this came out, I got 'Élan' off iTunes before work (despite the pants audio level available from them) and got a few listens of the song in all its awesomeness in before and on the way to work.

Akasava: Strange Aeons (2015) EP Review

Man, it's rare for me these days that a truly un-putdownable doom record comes along. Sludge, stoner and all hardcore-related stuff does nothing for me, and most of the retro mum doom bands have been much more boring than their artful aesthetics and sick logos would suggest.

Well, here is an occult French band that will make you forget all about Orchid and Devil and their type. This is right up your street if you consider Bedemon's Symphony of Shadows one of the best releases in recent years, and consider the guitar sound on Witchfinder General's Soviet Invasion to have never been surpassed. It's not perfect but it is something that deserves a bit of focus because the DNA of a pretty solid doom metal band is in here somewhere.

Ordoxe: May Death Be My Shepherd (2015) Album Review

New material by this Quebecois horde is to be anticipated since last year's excellent Beyond Mankind. This is a band that have some recognition coming to them, if they get what they damn well deserve. The strict, efficient style of instrumentation combined with the openminded approach to songwriting make this a tight unit.

Ordoxe opt for a more malevolent and blasphemy focused aesthetic with their new record, in keeping with a bleaker sound and lyrical aspect. While the extremely catchy leads and riffs are still in there, as is the punishing rhythm section, someone has made the decision to reign in the buzzsaw sound of the guitars a bit as compared to Beyond Mankind. Hence, bleaker, though no less bloody I can assure you.

Forgotten Horror: Aeon of the Shadow Goddess (2015) Album Review

Although the name Forgotten Horror sounds more like a retro death metal band that should be signed to Razorback or Hell's Headbangers, it is in fact a pretty intense black metal band put together by the guys from Deathchain, whose last album Ritual Death Metal was nothing less than killer from beginning to end. It is also coming out on Woodcut Records, which is owned, I just now realise, by the former vocalist of classic Finnish death metal band Cartilage. Which is exciting.

Much like Deathchain, the production is unbelievably heavy and detailed, the ferocity of the music is unforgiving, and the emphasis is on functional tunes and powerful instrumentation. What Aeon of the Shadow Goddess has to distinguish it - especially in Finland where there are a few very established sounds that the majority of bands cleave to these days - is an element of the busy and chromatic to its nine dense tracks. The whole album has enough ideas going on, enough impressive instrumentation and a beautiful enough sound to feel exactly as professional and high-budget as stuff like Behemoth and Belphegor - but unlike the latter's latest album, this thing is pretty damn killer. And after a few listens some of the leads, the riffs and progressions start to bury themselves in the brain.

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Countess: Ancient Lies and Battle Cries (2014) Album Review

I happened to catch Countess play live last summer in one of a small number of festival performances they've been doing, playing as a full band for the first time in 17 years or so. Without exaggeration, it was one of the most fun gigs I've ever seen. I mean it was fucking awesome. The grim-as-fukk "legions" around me in their box fresh Mgla and Inquisition merchandise didn't seem to respond to it, but that really was their loss - this band must be heard live to really be appreciated! On studio their primal heavy metal energy isn't really felt the same, but many of the tracks compiled for their Sermons of the Infidel compilation are killer in their own right, and their full-lengths seem to have some good stuff on them too. Case in point.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Funerary Bell: Graveyard Seance (2015) EP Review

This is quite a funny little EP by a Finnish band I'd never heard of before. Funny as in surprising, totally unpredictable and quite a groovy listen. I don't even know any of the members from their other projects, but they've got a split with Blood Red Fog, their logo is incredibly killer and they dress like a mix of modern Horna and Behexen. Their music is far more off-kilter and esoteric than either of those staple Suomi hordes though. Graveyard Seance presents its credentials in the form of two mid-paced songs with an atmosphere thick as incense smoke and nothing you expected to happen happening.