Discography Review | Beyond the Black

Continuing on from last year, my new year’s resolution once again is to expand the breadth of my musical knowledge and experience. As with last year, I’m listening to the discography of a different band each month.

As mentioned last time out, I’ve fallen slightly behind. My previous entry saw me take a look at US stoner americana folksy proggy grungsters All Them Witches.  To make up for not doing a discography in April, I intend to do squeeze in an extra one somewhere. Partially because of this, I’ve opted for a band with only a couple of albums this time – Beyond the Black.

Background:  Prior to their booking at Bloodstock last year I had never heard of them. I listened to couple of tracks before seeing them there, and was blown away with how professional a band with just two albums to their name are. Their songs were catchy and they were accomplished musicians.  All that being said, it took me until recently to check them out again.


Songs of Love and Death– Songs of Love and Death

In the Shadows kicks things off. Immediately I’m thinking of Within Temptation a bit here. It’s a good, solid opener that tells you what BtB are about. Nice inclusion of flutes. Songs of Love and Death is a song that’s been in my head since Bloodstock and a genuine belter of a tune.  Musically it (and a few others on the album)  reminds me of the crunchy rhythm guitar/symphonic keyboard combo that bands like Nightwish and Avantasia utlise. Unbroken is the first ballad on the album and is a little disappointing. Things pick ack up with When Angels Fall. The sound switches between symphonic metal and a sort of contemplative acoustic melody that – for some reason – reminds me of Stone Sour’s Bother. Pearl in a World of Dirt has guest lead vocals from Hannes Brawne of Kissin’ Dynamite. It’s the second ballad on the album, and is the far superior. Acoustic guitars and the flute also make a pleasant return. I don’t what it is about Hallelujah, but it strikes me as a b-side (or 4th or 5th single from the same album). Maybe it’s because it came straight after two of their better tracks and it would have fared better elsewhere on the album? Running to the Edge ramps up the tempo and is one of their better songs – you can see why this closes their set. At this point, the album was on for a really good score. However, NumbDrowing in Darkness and Afraid of the Dark are all – whilst not bad in the slightest – a little bit by-the-numbers compared to the earlier songs. Fall into Flames is a bit better, and then we get their interesting take on Motorhead’s Love Me Forever to close.  It works really well as a piano centric tune and is a fune closer.

Overall:
No reinventions of the wheel here, but definitely an album that fans of Nightwish, Within Temptation and Avantasia would probably enjoy. As debut albums go, it’s pretty swish, if let down a little by a back end that doesn’t quite hold up to the scrutiny of the first half.

Score:
3

Favourite tracks:
Songs of Love and Death, When Angels Fall, Pearl in a World of Dirt, Running to the Edge.


Lost in Forever– Lost in Forever

Opening up Beyond The Black’s only other album to date is an absolute cracker of a title track. Lost in Forever takes the melody/catchiness of Songs of Love and Death and marries it to the tempo/urgency of Running to the Edge. Great stuff. Beautiful Lies is their second duet (this time with current At Vance and Masterplan frontman Rick Altzi), and it’s pretty darn good. Pearl in a World of Dirt sets a bar for BtB duets, and it almost matches it. Written in Blood isn’t quite on a par with the opening couple of tracks but it does have a solid, rousing chorus. Against the World is a power ballad that’s good-without-being-special. It could be a grower. Beyond the Mirror is similar to Written in Blood in terms of quality. It’s very easy on the ear and would make sense as a song chosen to extent a setlist as a ‘breather’ track between two more famous ones. Halo of the Dark is a strong album track that I suspect will be another to grow on me with multiple play throughs. If there were tiers to the quality of BtB tracks, Dies Irae would safely sit in the second top, just beneath their absolute best. A very catchy tune. Forget My Name is fine. Burning in Flames has a nice opening riff that reminds me, just a bit of contemporary Iron Maiden. The song itself isn’t bad, and the riff is better. Nevermore is a bit better.  Shine and Shade has a neat bit of folkish instrumentation incorporated into the earlier portions. The verses sound like this song should sound a bit more like a story being retold, or a saga, and the very simple poppy chorus takes a little away from it. Not bad though. Heaven and Hell takes a slightly darker turn and is one of the better tracks in the back half of the album. Love’s a Burden is a neat, brooding acoustic track that closes out the original edition of the album (the tour edition tacks on another 3-4 songs).

Overall:
Better than their debut, though suffering from the familiar issue of the back end of the album not being as strong as the first half. Still, the overall quality is up and they are going in the right direction. 

Score:
3.5

Favourite tracks:
Lost in Forever, Beautiful Lies, Dies Irae, Written in Blood




That wraps up Beyond the Black’s two albums. There’s some neat stuff on both, and fans of Nightwish, Within Temptation and Avantasia should definitely give it a whirl. If they ever manage to write a full album of the quality of the first halves of either of these, they’ll have created a syphonic metal classic. As it stands, it’s simply two good albums with great first halves.

 

Discography Revew | All Them Witches

Continuing on from last year, my new year’s resolution once again is to expand the breadth of my musical knowledge and experience. As with last year, I’m listening to the discography of a different band each month.

Admittedly, I’ve fallen slightly behind! My previous entry saw me take a look at Armenian-American metallers System of a Down, back in March.  To make up for not doing a discography in April, I intend to do three between now and the end of June.

This time around I’ve gone for American blues / neo-pysch / stoner rockers All Them Witches.

Background:  I have a handful of friends who rave about these guys. On the back of that, I recall checking out the odd track, but little of those tracks past generally enjoying them. After discovering that they are playing Sheffield this July, I sorted tickets for myself and a mate.


Our Mother Electricity–  Our Mother Electricity 

Heavy / Like A Witch kicks us off with an interesting vocal chant / hum, before giving way to a chilled out bluesy riff.  Instantly noticeable is the warm, retro guitar sound. This is a good opener, improved by the introduction of some tasty keyboard work in the back end. The Urn features some guitarwork that reminds me of Hendrix and Skynyrd, whilst the verses are almost pop-y in places.  A nifty tune. Bloodhounds is cloeser in style to the opener. It’s fine. Guns display some sleepier sounding vocals, which go hand-in-hand with the chilled vibe from the rest of the band. I really enjoyed the guitar work in this one. Good stuff. Elk.Blood.Heart sees thins slowed right down to begin with.  The guitars are scaled back a bit and vocals brought to the forefront more. This dynamic changes gradually over the course of the song, leading to a pretty sweet mini solo. One of the better tracks so far. Until It Unwinds sees the keyboards in a welcome return. Another track that begins quiet and sleepy at the start, but this subtly grows into a nice mid-tempo tune dominated by sort-of-proggy and a sort-of-miniamlistic central riff. In contrast to the previous tracks, Easy is a relatively simple little tune, and one of my favourites. Family Song for the Leaving leans a little more towards melancholy folk and Americana than most, and has a darker temperament. Right Hand closes the standard edition of the debut album. Electric guitars return. Song is decent enough, and the instrumental work towards the end of the song reminds me of Graveyard.

Overall:
There’s a sort of sombre, melancholy edge to the album, as well as a general vibe of lazy summer days. It’s very appealing and relaxing. Some of their instrumental work reminds me of Graveyard’s more melodic parts. In fact, if you told a group of melancholy folk singers to write songs whilst listening to Graveyard, ZZ Top and a bit of Springsteen, you might just end up with ATW’s sound. As an album, it’s pretty strong without having any tracks that must be replayed. A very enjoyable debut.

Score:
[3.5]

Favourite Tracks:
Elk.Blood.Heart, The Urn, Until It Unwinds


Lightning at the Door– Lightning at the Door

 The intro to Funeral For a Great Drunken Bird reminds me a little of post-rockers *shels or, more locally, Gilmore Trail.  The early guitar has heaps of fuzz. Spoken word lyrics arrive in the final third, enhancing the otherworldly sound that has been buil over the first few minutes. A good start. When God Comes Back features a sort of call-and-response opening between the vocals and crunchy, fuzzy guitars. This is a more straight up stoner rock track, and a step heavier than the stuff on their debut LP.  The Marriage of Coyote Women starts quietly, with a simple riff. The mouth organ adds just an extra something a band that already drenches its work in southern rock vibes. Ends up being a really cool blues tune. Swallowed by the Sea starts off like a sort of melancholy folk tune before kicking into a couple of minutes of heavier stoner rock fuzziness. There’s an ever so slight hint of doom here, amongst the methodical riffs. This track feels ever so slightly artificially extended, but I enjoyed it and its randomness. I wasn’t sure about Charles William at first, but it blossoms into a decent stoner rock track. The Death of the Coyote Women sees an up-tempo intro give way to a slower, more deliberate and chilled out tune – albeit with a subtly malevolent vibe. There’s a trippy haziness to the back half of the song that’s quite infectious. Romany Dagger is a pretty good little instrumental that predominatly features a combo of acoustic/southern guitar and fiddle. Mountain is a very deliberately aced song, taking five minutes to steadily build to a one minute finale. That last minute is excellent, and benefits from the build, though I do wonder if the balance should have been closer to four and two, or maybe just extending the track a little to give the closing riffs more time to flourish. Romany Dagger (Remended)  see us revisit the previously mentioned intstrumental, though it is tweaked here and there and extended by over a minute. There’s more depth to the sound too, with a slighlty discordant guitar swimming just beneath the folkish surface. Really good. Surface-to-Air- Whistle closes things out. Threatening to be a little more mainstream at first – cowbell alert! – it settles into being a catchy, mid-tempo intrstrumental stoner psych tune, that almost becomes space rock by it’s conclusion.

Overall: A little trippier and more hypnotic than the debut album. It’s also a little narrower in scope, almost like they have decided that bridging the gap between folk, psych and stoner/desert rock is sort of their calling. On a single playthrough I think they are still missing that outright killer classic but, by this point, there’s plenty of material to hold a strong as hell set together.

Score:
[4]

Best tracks: The Marriage of the Coyote Women, Romany Dagger (Remended), Surface-to-Air Whistle


Dying Surfer Meets His Maker– Dying Surfer Meets His Maker

 Call Me Star sets the scene with a somewhat upbeat sounding acoustic intro. This gives way to a minimalist riff that takes us to the track’s conclusion. A nice intro for what’s to come. El Centro is another track that has pockets of minimalistic repetition. There’s a sence of foreboding that comes and goes throughout the track. One of my favourites across their discography so far.  Dirt Preachers sounds more like it’s ‘meant to be a single’. It’s short-ish, catchy and straightforward. Saying that, they sort of subvert this a little in the finale third with a drastic downturn in pace and darkening of the tone, This is Where It Falls Apart flows on smoothly from the previous song. The tempo is slowed right down for the blusier intro. The mouth organ returns! This ends up being a very pleasant dream-like tunes, threatening to venture into post-rock territory in places. Mellowing is a minimalistic acoustic tune that almost acts as a bridge between the songs either side of it. It’s good in it’s own right. Open Passageways is a nice little tune. Instrumental 2 (Welcome to the Caveman Future) is a short bluesy psych rock tune with some funky sound effects. Cool tune. Talisman starts off quite simply, but becomes this catchy full-bodied epic tune. Blood and Sand / Milk and Endless Waters  continues straight on. Flirting with the boundaries of post-rock, space rock and psych, this is a fantastic closing track and one of my absolute favourites of theirs.

Overall: The first album where I’ve thought that, not only has the whole album come together without any hitches, but they have some genuinely cracking tunes. This is simply a brilliant, almost longform piece that should be listened to in a single sitting – and listened to many times. 

Score:
[4.5]

Best tracks: El Centro, Talisman, Blood and Sand / Milk and Endless Waters


Sleeping Through the War– Sleeping Through the War 

Bulls starts off pretty chilled and, for around three or so minutes, is almost dream-like and hazy. Around the halfway mark everything kicks in. Decent opener. Don’t Bring Me Coffee is a sort of a blusier, fuzzier take on Nirvana’s flavour of grunge. Quite catchy and could be a grower. Bruce Lee is fairly catchy and a more straight up rock sounding track. I could see it being used live to break up some of their more cerebral tunes. 3-5-7 is a moody and steadily paced track. It’s also a step-up from the past few tunes. Am I Going Up? sees us return to the disciplined riffery that I have taken a liking to. There’s a sort of hypnotic vibe throughout, elevated by a drone-like use of keyboards late on. A good track that I think will get even better on replaying. Alabaster has a sort of jazzier blues intro and quickly becomes quite an interesting proggier psych track. It’s also the best and most interesting track so far. Cowboy Kirk is a song of two halves. It beginning with a sort of free-ish and interpretive but of work, before settling down into familiar bluesy fuzz territory. Though not on a par with Alabaster, this is good stuff. Internet is a downbeat bluesy epic that sort of descends into a low tempo jam. Excellent.

Overall: There’s a grungier vibe to this album (more obvious in the first half than the latter). Whilst I don’t dislike the songs, I think the second half of the album, which veers towards a sort of hybrid sound of their two previous albums, is much the stronger. If the entire album was like the back half, it would threaten to be their best, as opposed to vying for 3rd. 

Score:
[3.5]

Best tracks: Alabaster, Internet, Am I Going Up?



 

That wraps up my whistle-stop tour of All Them Witches. I’ve really enjoyed this particular listen through – definitely one of the best.

I think they are at their best when they are chanelling themselves into hypnotic, proggy minimalism, though their forays intro blues and, on the first album at least, folky americana make for a unique sound that oddly feels familiar. I think their grungier stuff shows promise, but probably needs a little work to get it up to the standard of the rest of what they offer. This is a minor criticism though.



As mentioned at the beginning, I’ve gotten slightly behind, so I’ll try and bash through a couple of short discographies in June.


Discography Review | System of a Down

Continuing on from last year, my new year’s resolution once again is to expand the breadth of my musical knowledge and experience. As with last year, I’m listening to the discography of a different band each month.

This is my entry for March 2017.

My previous entry saw me take a look at Californian alt-metallers Tool.

This time around I’ve gone for another alternativel metal band in Armenian-Americans System of a Down.

Background: As with any self-repsecting metal head, I know around four or five tracks really well from a combination of music channels and club nights over the years. Despite this, I’ve rarely listened to anything beyond their singles.


System of a Down – System of  a Down

Suite-Pee has an interesting, stripped down shred to open, before giving way to quite a catchy riff. Track is quite chaotic; not bad. Know has some tasty drums in the intro, but otherwise a more straightforward tune. Sugar didn’t overly do anything for me. It starts off pretty heavy, before dropping into a relatively minimalistic riff. Last thirty seconds are like an entirely different tune. The quieter intro to Suggestions was a pleasant change. The song reminds me of a less refined take on Devin Townsend’s Vampira in places. Spiders is a bit more mainstream,  and has a more thoughtful tone. There’s also a subtle malice the adds a few layers, and this is the best track so far. Despite the somewhat jazzy intro, DDevil seems little more than filler. Soil has a nice riff, but it otherwise didn’t do anything for me. War? has a better riff, and is a bit better as a song (without being special). Mind has some nice build up over the first few minutes, but it’s a track that’s more interesting than good. Peephole starts with some sci-fi sounding samples before morphing into something like a macabre heavy metal circus / theme park. CUBErt is a short and catchy one. It’s also the much better of the two sub 2 minute tracks. Darts starts off catchy enough, but loses it’s way a bit. P.L.U.C.K. rounds things off. It has a nice bass intro, before a riff (that very, very vaguely reminds me of Gojira) kicks in. Not a bad tune.

Overall [3]

At forty minutes, it somehow seems a little long; it’s almost like this was an EP that was expanded to make LP length (or an 8 or 9 track album forced to be 13). That said, there’s nothing overly wrong with the album, and they certainly have plenty of original ideas. However, there’s a distinct lack of actual killer tunes by this point. There’s some tasty riffs here though.

Best tracks: Spiders, Peephole, CUBErt


ToxicityToxicity

A staggered, sort of minimalist intro kicks off Prison Song. Once it kicks in, the track follows a similar pattern to those of the debut album particularly – sporadic timing changes abound. Unlike on the debut, these changes are handled much more smoothly here, and are less jarring. The song itself is a decent enough protest tune. Needles is more of the same, but a bit better. I quite like the little interlude a couple of minutes in. Deer Dance starts off pretty solid, before becoming more interesting by the softer interlude. Pretty good. Jet Pilot has probably one of the speediest intros to date, whih gives way to a relative slow and malevolently sounding verse. The track jumps between these two styles throughout. It’s decent enough, and I could see it being a decent filler track when placed between two more popular tracks. X is a much more straightforward track, and I really enjoyed it. Chop Suey! is the ultimate SOAD track and a heavy metal classic. Bounce is pure silliness! In a way, it’s sort of a breath of fresh air after the super seriousness that’s mostly been up to this point. Forest has a really good opening riff. Another of their more traditionally laid out tracks, and one of their better efforts. I really dug the main, driving riff. Atwa is similar to Jet Pilot in the sense that it flits between two distinct tunes, but this does it much better. Science has a tasty, crisp guitar sound and a cool, driving riff to open up. The rest of the track sounds like a ‘standard’ SOAD track, but with much more memorable guitar work throughout. Shimmy seems to b a collection of short, catchy riffs with a few lyrics thrown over the top. Catchy. Toxicity is another SOAD classic, and one of the better examples of Serj’s more melodic vocal work. Psycho is mostly pretty good, before an excellent thirty second instrumental closes things out nicely. Aerials Arto provides an excellent denoument to their bst album.

Overall [4]

Without counting the trio of heavy metal classics that Toxicity contains – the title track, Chop Seuy!, Aerials – SOAD’s second album was already a step up on their debut. The more manic tracks have smoother timing changes, and there are some pretty flipping catchy tracks.

Best Tracks: Chop Suey!, Aerials, Toxicity, Atwa, Forest


Steal This Album!– Steal This Album!

Chic ‘N’ Stu is a silly, yet catchy opener. Innervision and Bubbles are both easy on the ear and somewhat catchy. Decent. Boom! and Nüguns are a little better, without being anything special. A.D.D.  is the first track on the album to really show some of their trademark aggression more prevelant on earlier work. Mr. Jack is the only track on the album over four minutes, and it uses the time fairly well to give some build up. Unfortunately, the lyrics are forgettable. I-E-A-I-A-I-O is the only track off this album they’ve been playing of late, after as an opener. It’s a little nonesensical, but it’s an entertaining tongue-twister. 36 is short (46 seconds) track. Pointless. Pictures has a nice bass intro, and is otherwise fine. Highway Song is a track I enjoyed as something to listen to in the background whilst doing other things. Fuck the System is somewhat catchy, but otherwise nothing special. Ego Brain has a nice acoustic intro (and maybe a melotron?). It theatens to be a great tune, but never really nails it. Thetawaves is forgettable, but Roulette is a really good, simple acoustic track. Streamline has a tasty riff or two and a decent closer.

Overall [3]

Apparently there is some conjecture as to whether this should be included, due to it being considered something of a polished up outtakes and b-sides collection. However, most official reviews/record sites list is as official, so I’m counting it. As for the album itself, take away the best three or so songs, and it’d struggle to be more than above average. I think there’s enough here to just call this a good album, but it’s far from a great one.

Best tracks: I-E-A-I-A-I-O, Highway Song, Roulette


MezmerizeMezmerize

Solider Side (Intro) is a one minute long moody and melancholy acoustic piece. It’s a scene setter, and runs into the start of B.Y.O.B. The latter is a modern classic that blends heavy shredding with an almost pop-like chorus. It’s their best post-Toxicity era song. Revenga has a tasty galloping riff that dips in and out of the duration. Song itself is not bad, enhhanced by said riffage. Cigaro is a bit odd. Radio/Video is a quite enjoyable example of SOAD’s passion of juxtaposing heavy and soft verses/choruses. This Cocaine Makes Me Like I’m On This Song is decent enough, but doesn’t stand out. Violent Pornography is a cracking tune, and a favourite in nightclubs around the time of it’s release. Question! was one of the singles. It’s not on a par with the ‘big’ tunes, but it’s good enough. Sad Statue‘s opening riff is a sweet callback to the main B.Y.O.B. riff. A good album track. Old School Hollywood is a little different, employing some synthy keyboards and vocal distortions. Kind of sounds a bit cheesy. Lost in Hollywood is a quiet, more refelctive tune and I quite enjoyed it.

Overall [3.5]

A very easy to listen to album, with a handful of cracking tracks peppered across its 36 minute run time. Not quite up to the sustained quality of Toxicity, but certainly their second best album up to this point.

Best tracks: B.Y.O.B., Violent Pornography, Revenga


Hypnotize– Hypnotize

Attack has a heavy, intense opening. As per SOAD, it gives way to a softer verse that they keep coming back to. It’s fine. Dreaming is mostly chaotic, but is actually at it’s most appealing in during is calmer middle section. Kill Rock ‘n’ Roll is somewhat forgettable. Hypnotize, for some reason, to me sounds like a twisted heavy metal lullaby. I enjoyed it, and I think it’s comfortably the best track on the album by this point. I don’t think much of the next couple of tracks, though Stealing Society is better than TentativeU-Fig is a bit more interesting than the two of them. Holy Mountains is one of their moodier and more reflective tracks. It’s also, comfortably, one of the better tracks on this album (though that isn’t saying much). Vicinity of Obscenity is silly filler, and She’s Like Heroin is worse. Lonely Mountain isn’t bad, and Solider Side is fine.

Overall [2.5]

A handful of pretty good tunes can’t help disguise that this is their weakest album to date. There’s too much filler (or worse) to be able to recommend it. Play the recommended tracks and leave it at that.

Best tracks: Hypnotize, Holy Mountains, Lonely Mountain



 

That rounds up my tour through System of a Down’s discography. For the most part, things are fine to good, with the much better Toxicity an obvious standout.

Discography Review | Tool

Continuing on from last year, my new year’s resolution once again is to expand the breadth of my musical knowledge and experience. As with last year, I’m listening to the discography of a different band each month.

This is my entry for February 2017.

My previous entry saw me take a look at Danish heavy metallers Volbeat.

This time around I’ve gone for revered Californian alt-metallers Tool.

Background: I have known of them for a quite a while, but never previously made much of an effort to get into them. I do recall seeing a random video on the music channels back in the day (for Schism I think), but little past that.


undertow – Undertow

Interesting  and somewhat otherworldy sounding drums gives way to a heavyish riff and angry vocals on the opener Intolerance. The mix seems a little off (the vocals are too low), but this is otherwise decent enough. Prison Sex is a step up, sounding like a mix of Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, and maybe a hint of Down. This gives way to the best trilogy of tracks on the album. SoberBottom and Crawl Away are all pretty great! Swamp Song isn’t far behind with it’s sort of sexier, dirtier riff that’s reminiscent of Danzig. The title track is more of the same, with an outro that wouldn’t be amiss in a Mastodon tune. The final three tracks aren’t bad, but definitely are a step down on that which has come before. Flood is probably the better of the three. Disugstipated comes across as something that’s artificially long – there’s no need for the ‘crickets’ section to be so drawn out.

Overall [4]
A good debut album, featuring a backbrone of cracking tracks. It seems to lose it’s way a little towards the end, though none of the tracks were outright poor.

Best tracks: Sober, Bottom, Cast Away


aenima– Ænima

Stinkfist is a catchy opener that would have sat squarely in the middle – quality wise – on the first album. This is followed by the much stronger, patient Eulogyfailed to hold my interest, though it’s far from a bad track. Forty Six & 2 is better, with some nice punchy guitars mixing well with another meandering riff. Message to Manback is a weird softly spoken yet angry voicemail juxataposed with a haunting piano backdrop. Hooker With a Penis is fine, though nothing special. Intermission is a short organ track that serves more as an intro to the next track. jimmy (sic) follows straight on/continues the tunes, except transposed to heavier guitars. The track is a grower, with it taking on a sort of haunting aspect by its conclusion. Die Eier von Satan sort of sticks out a bit – a relatively quiet, somewhat industrial sounding track that Google translate tells me is a recipe for The Eggs of Satan. Hmmm… Pushit is the second longest track on the album and one that flowers into a pretty epic beast. Cesaro Summability is another of the filler / instrumental / intro tracks. This time we start with the cry of a baby, followed by some distortion. It goes a bit dark electro for the remainder. Ænema is next, and is an absolutely cracking tune! Opening riff almost sounds like it should be in a sleaze rock tune. This gives way to the standard Tool sound (quiet guitars, interesting drums). By it’s conclusion, I think it’s one of the best tracks they’ve done, let alone the best on this album. (-) Ions is a combination of cound effects that mimic a rising storm – battering winds mostly – with a pulsating electrostatic loop running over the top of it. Third Eye is quite interesting for the most poart, and certainly easier on the ear than Undertow‘s closer. Not a bad track. 

Overall [3]
I think the quality varies a little more on this one. I really dig three or four tracks from it, but I think there’s more filler here than on Undertow. Also, some of the intermissive tracks seem to be there for the sake of it. On the balance of things, probably a step behind their debut.

Best Tracks: Eulogy, Pushit, Ænema



lateralus– Lateralus

We kick things off with The Grudge. Brooding, meandering riffs that hint at malevolence (something I now realise is sort of Tool’s signature) greet the listener. If we’re comparing openers, it is of a similar quality to Stinkfist, if a bit grungier and a bit proggier. Good opener. Eon Blue Apocalypse is a pleasant little interludeintro to the next track. The Patient is  a great example of one of things Tool seem to do really well – build suspense/expectation and create a generally dark vibe. After a few fakeouts, things kick in proper around the two and a half minute mark and they don’t look back. The back third or so is something else. After the chilled instrumental Mantra, we get one of their big singles in Schism. I don’t know what really to say about this – it’s just so inherently listenable and one of their best. Parabol is a quiet, mournful tune that sounds more like a three minute intro than a stand alone effort. Parabola has a tasty opening riff, dropping us straight into the action. This is another track that I really dig, but struggle to describe exactly why over some of the others. Ticks and Leeches has a nice drum intro, before jumping around a bit across pace and style for the next eight plus minutes. I enjoyed it without being blown away, though the heavy-ish outro is really good. The title track continues the vibe of the album, but it is probably the most ‘filler’ of all the ‘proper’ songs. Disposition is another musical interlude that gives way to the astounding Reflection. The addition of the John Cerpentar-esque synth helps to generator another dark, mysterious musical landscape that wouldn’t be out of place on a sountrack for something like Blade Runner. One of my favourites. Triad is  a decent-lengthed instrumental piece with some interesting callbacks to previous track. I’m not too sure what to make of the closing track Faaip de Oiad – it’s a sort of short more experimental piece that mostly involves spoken word and static. It is what it is.

Overall [4]
Sound wise, Lateralus is definitely closer to Ænima than Undertow. However, the writing and performing is both tighter and there’s less filler here. There’s also some of the best tracks they’ve written to date on here.

Best tracks: Reflection, Schism, Parabola



10000-days– 10,000 Days

First track Vicarious sounds tighter than the previous openers. Jambi is more of the same. Both tracks are good without flooring me. Wings For Marie (Pt. 1) is a six minute, dark, moving piece. We immediately go into 10,000 Days (Wings Pt. 2) which is something else entirely. It has a monstrously patient build, and almost feels saga like in it’s story telling structure. The two parts form a sort of eulogy to Keenan’s mother, whose mother tragically spent the last 27 years of her life paralysed after an aneurysm. The mood is reflective, a dark and thick with emotion. Equally beautiful and bleak, this is a masterpiece of a track. The Pot has the unveniable task of following that. Thankfully, it’s a very catchy tune and the change of pace/mood works well after the emotional drain that was what came before. Lipan Conjuring is a pleasant, short track consisting of what appears to be native american chanting. Lost Keys (Blame Hofmann), is really a sort of minimalist prologue for Rosetta StonedRosetta… is an excellent sprawling track, with some nice experimentation in places. On another album, it would likely be the best track. Intension has a sort of etheral, otherworldy feel. Good without being amazing, but fits the vibe of the album. Right in Two was sort of like a better take on the opening two tracks – a little ‘Tool-by-numbers’ – but still good. The closing track is Viginti Tres, a five minute track comprising of sound effects that wouldn’t be amiss on a sci fi or scene, setting the mood. Given the feel of the album as a whole, it feels somewhat apt.

Overall [4]
I wasn’t sure how this was gonna hold up compared to Lateralus, especially after the first couple of tracks (good, without being brilliant). However, from Wings for Marie onwards this thing really kicks into another gear. If the album had ended at Rosetta Stoned, this would have gotten the best score. 

Best tracks: 10,000 Days, Rosetta Stoned, The Pot



That was my whistle stop tour of Tool’s albums. Overall, I’ve got to admit I’ve really enjoyed the whole run. I think Ænima suffers a little more from filler, as well as some of the proggier bits not quite working out. That being said, there are no bad albums here and I can’t choose between the other three.


Discography Review | Volbeat

Continuing on from last year, my new year’s resolution once again is to expand the breadth of my musical knowledge and experience. As with last year, I’m listening to the discography of a different band each month.

This is my entry for January 2017.

My previous entry saw me take a look at proggy retro rockers Bigelf.

This time around I’ve gone for Danish rockabilly loving heavy metallers, Volbeat.

Background: I’ve been aware of them for a while (they are huge on mainland Europe and often play towards the top of the bill) , but never actively tracked down their stuff. I’ve heard their cover of I Only Want To Be With You before, and a couple of their later singles.


the-strength-the-sound-the-songs – The Strength/The Sound/The Songs

Their 2005 debut opens up with the solid Caroline Leaving, which leads into the vastly superior Another Day, Another Way. The latter’s main riff reminds me of No Doubt’s Hella Good, in a good way. After the decent Something Else Or…. there is a trio belters in the form of Rebel MonsterPool of Booze, Booze, Booze and Always.Wu. Each of them is contemporary heavy metal, but with a slightly different twist (Pool… for example, sounds almost stoner metal, whereas Always… has some speed / trad metal elements). Say Your Number is good, and the pseudo-ballad Soulweeper is a cracking tune! Fire Song feels like a bit of a filler, and Danny & Lucy gets better as it goes along. Caroline #1 is another track with stoner rock vibes, and really sodding good! Alienized is fine, but is a nice buffer between Caroline #1 and the excellent Dusty Springgield cover, I Only Want To Be With You. The closing double are good in their own ways – Everything’s Still Fine has a tasty mid-paced chugging riff, plus a nice Kasmir-era Zeppelin eastern sounding guitar flourish every now and then. Healing Subconsciously has a warmer guitar sound. Song itself is a rousing, upbeat and triumpant one – a really good closer.

Overall [4]
A really flipping good debut album. Plenty of catchy tracks throughout, and – while there is a sort of signature sound in each song – there’s a nice variety within than scope. It keeps everything fresh.

Best tracks: Soulweeper, Caroline #1, I Only Wanna Be With You.


rock-the-rebel-metal-the-devilRock the Rebel / Metal the Devil 

The 2007 follow-up has a decent opening track in The Human Instrument, featuring a nice guitar sound that’s halfway between Floydian and country/western. Mr. & Mrs. Ness sounds like something from the early 90s – like a mid-paced Megadeth intro, or a heavier Queensryche track. The Garden’s Tale has a calmer intro, before kicking into a track thats almost pop punk. This makes sense considering the guest musician is from post-punk band Magtens Korridor. This is one of the best things they’ve put out so far. Devil or the Blue Cat’s Song feels like a slight comedown after the previous quality of what preceeded it, but would probably be a good track elsewhere on the album. Sad Man’s Tongue has a nice banjo led intro and a very southern US vibe to the whole thing. Not a bad track. River Queen is a bit of a grower, but Radio Girl and A Moment Forever aren’t anything memorable. Soulweeper #2 is a cracking slower to mid-paced, more sombre piece. Juxtaposing You or Them with the previous track is neat, as it makes this seem heavier than it is . A really catchy track. Boa (JDM) is a decent closing track, if nothing special.

Overall [3]
A good follow-up, if one that doesn’t blow me away. There’s some really cool tracks here, but – for a relatively short album – there’s a bit too much that’s just decent filler.

Best Tracks: The Garden’s Tale, Soulweeper #2, You or Them.


guitar-gangesters-and-cadillac-bloodGuitar Gangsters & Cadillac Blood

After a plesant intro, the title track kicks in. It’s a really catchy tune/chorus and screams ‘single’. This flows into the pop-punky sounding Back to Prom, and things gets a smidge heavier with Mary Ann’s Place. By this point, all the tracks have had cracking intros anfd been pretty sweet. Hallelujah Goat is a little less memorable than that which went before, but still pretty good. Maybellene I Hofteholder uses the typical ‘slow things down before hitting you with a punchy punky riff’ intro – and does it well. Good track. We is more of the same, and similarly good. The next few tracks are all ‘pretty good’, before the really good cover of Hank Williams’ I’m So Lonely I Could CryA Broken Man and the Dawn starts well, but sort of a peters out. Find that Soul is a pretty good album track, before another good cover (of Jimmy Work’s Making Believe) closes things out.

Overall [3.5]
Probably the middle ground, quality wise, in the releases so far. First half is pretty damned good, but the back half is a bit hit and miss.

Best tracks: Guitar Gangsters & Cadillac Blood, Back to Prom, I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.


untitledBeyond Hell / Above Heaven

The Mirror and the Ripper is a solid opener, which makes way for up-tempo pseudo-ballad Heaven Nor HellWho They Are has a deliciously malovolent riff that wouldn’t be amiss on a Ghost album. Once things kick in, it sounds like a contemporary metal track as on their earlier albums. It’s good stuff. Fallen and A Better Believer are fine, but 7 Shots is really good! It features guest lead guitar (Michael Denner from Mercyful Fate/King Diamond) and guest secondary vocals (Mille Petrozza from Kreator). It’s not as heavy as the inclusion of those musicians may imply, but it’s heavier than the previous tracks on the album. Nonetheless, its areally catchy tune that utulises them both well. A New Day is fine, but 16 Dollars is better. The latter is closer to a rockabilly / old school rock n roll sound, making it sound somewhat fresh with where it’s placed on the album. A very likeable tune. A Warrior’s Call is fascinating – it’s a song about, and as a tribute to, Danish boxer Mikkel Kessler. It’s got a nice punchy fists-in-the-air sort of chorus, and it’s really catchy! Magic Zone is an upbeat tune that makes user of a warmer guitar tone for the intro, and has a punchy main riff. Evelyn is a fair whack heavier, and features thier first track with growling vocals, courtesy of Barney from Napalm Death. I’ve never been a fan, and this didn’t do much for me. Being 1 changes the tone once more. It’s a short song (a little over two minutes) and feels like it’s made to be the first part of a medley. Thanks is an actual song thanking their fans for their support over the year. Despite how cheesy this sounds in concept, it’s actually quite a memorable tune, and would work in tandem with Being 1 as a sort of medley to close out a concert.

Overall [3.5]
A pretty strong album, probably on a part with their previous release. Though there aren’t many outright killer tunes, there’s very little filler.

Best tracks: 7 Shots, 16 Dollars and a Warrior’s Call.


outlaw-gentlemen-and-shady-ladiesOutlaw Gentlement & Shady Ladies

A collection of acoustic/Spanish guitars, a harp and a mouth organs/harmonica combine to set the western scene in the tro track Let’s Shake Some Dust. The next next couple of track are simply decent, despite some nice guitar work. Dead But Rising is a bit heavier and a bit better. Cape of Our Hero is one of the few tracks I’d heard previously, and this is where the album properly kicks off – a pretty great track! Room 24 has a sort of a horror vibe to it, which makes sense with Kind Diamond on guest vocals. A really good heavy metal tune. The Hangman’s Body Count was the second single released from the album, and you can tell why on one play. The lone blip on the back half of the album is the forgettable My BodyLola Montez is another track I’ve heard before, but I’m not sure where  – maybe a club? It’s one of the better tracks on the album – in fact, it may be one of the tracks I’ve enjoyed the most so far. Black Bart is a good, up-tempo track. Lonesome Rider features guest vocals from Sarah Blackwood (of Dubstar fame). She adds a pleasant extra dimension. The song itself has a the vibe of a single from a film’s soundtrack. Really good stuff. The Sinner Is You grows into a really catchy tune with a memorable chorus. Doc Holliday is a bit heavier and the better type of album track. Our Loved Ones is a strong, epic osunding finale.

Overall [4]
From Cape of Our Hero onwards, it’s a really good album and the closest they’ve come to replicating the quslity of their debut to date.

Best tracks: Cape of Our Hero, Room 24, The Hangman’s Body Count, Lonesome Rider.


seal-the-deal-and-lets-boogieSeal the Deal & Let’s Boogie

Prodecings are started with their best opening track to date, The Devil’s Bleeding Crown. Parts of it remind me of the stoner rock/metal vibe of Poole of Booze, Booze, Booze and Caroline #1Marie Laveau reminds me of one of their previous songs, but I can’t place which. It’s a solid track, either way. For Evigt features Johan Olsen from Magtens Korridor. It’s a bit of a grower, and better than the previous song. The next couple of tracks (The Gates of Babylon and Let Ir Burn) are fine, but would be lost in the mix on the better albums I think. Black Rose features Danko Jones and is a definite step up on the previous tracks. Rebound is a cover of punk band Teenage Bottlerocket. Unlike their previous covers, it doesn’t overly stand out, though still decent. Mary Jane Kelly is somewhat better. Goodbye Forever slows things down a nudge, before Seal the Deal ramps things back up (the former is solid, the latter pretty darn good). Battleship Chains is a cover of The Woods’ song (made famous by The Georgia Satellites). It’s a really good cover of one of my favourite songs. I’m undecided on You Will Know – future listens will determine whether it is a grower, or just a decent album track. The standard edition closes with The Loa’s Crossroad. The intro riff is really cool, punchy and kick ass. Song itself is solid, with a nice – random – bagpipe solo in the middle!

Overall [3]
A step down from Outlaw Gentlemen but still a good album. There’s a little too mych that’s just decent filler for me to rate it any higher.

Best tracks: The Devil’s Bleeding Crown, Seal the Deal, Battleship Chains.


 

And that’s that. I’ve really enjoyed this particular listen through. Over the ix albums, there’s some cracking tunes, and no single album is less than good.


 

New Year’s Resolutions – Music & Film

Happy new year!

Throughout 2016 I set myself a number of tasks and resolutions relating to both music and film.

Music wise, I set my self the goal of averaging a minumum of two albums per month that I’d not listened to before (one from 2016 and one pre-dating 2016). Additionally, I would listen to the entire discography of an individual band each month.

Film wise, I started my Year of Film series. I started it in March sometime to help me keep track of everything I’ve seen (regardless of whether it was from this year or not) and to write a little about it.

In the music front, I managed to pretty much stick to the plan, even squeezing in some extra albums at the back end of the year. It was also great to check out the discographies of (most) of the bands I went for. So, for 2017, I’ll be doing the same.

On the film front, while I managed to mostly keep a track of things, I did slack off in the back half of the year (hence the fewer updates with an increasing number of entires per update). I’ve decided to abandon my initial YOF list and start afresh with a YOF2017 list, running it from 1st Jan – 31st Dec to bring it in line with my musical resolutions too.

With all that in mind, I am open to suggestions for which band to cover for the January disography. Any and all suggetions are welcome, though my loose ground rules still apply – no more than 6 albums, and all have to be on Spotify.

P.s. For those interested, the albums I rated the highest from this year were:

2016 Releases
Kvelertak – “Nattesferd”
Opeth – “Sorceress”
SubRosa – “For This We Fought The Battle of Ages.”

Pre-2016 Releases
Mastodon – “The Hunter”
The Darkness – “Permission to Land”
Rise Against – “Appeal to Reason”
*Shels – “Sea of the Dying Dhow”

I would give all of the above 4.5 / 5 (except The Hunter, which gets the perfect 5).

Discography Review | Bigelf

As part of an ongoing New Year’s Resolution to expand the breadth of musical knowledge, I am listening to a discography of a band each month.

This is my entry for December.

My previous entry saw me take a look at Devin Townsed fronted extreme metallers Strapping Young Lad.

This time around I’ve for LA psychedelic, proggy retro rockers Bigelf.

Background: I briefly got into these guys when seeing them on a prog bill in Manchester around eight-ish years ago (a great gig that also featured Dream Theater, Opeth and Unexpect). Around that time, I picked up their album Cheat the Gallows. For whatever reason, I never fully explored their back catalogue, nor properly listened to their comeback album from 2014.

Note: The band brought out a six track EP in the 90s call Closer to Doom. It was later re-released with various amounts of ‘bonus’ tracks and some call this their debut album. I’m not counting this – it’s an EP to me.


money-machine– Money Machine
Their debut proper came out in 2000. Mostly, it’s a somewhat interesting mix of psychedelic pop and rock, with proggier elements. There’s definitely Beatles and King Crimson influences, along with maybe some Marc Bolan and Black Sabbath. There’s nothing overly wrong with the album, though I do think it lacks many kick ass tracks.

The opener is the title track and, while it’s not bad, it seems to have been needlessly stretched out to it’s seven minute plus run time. Sellout is fine, and Neuropsychopathic Eye is a bit better (the latter definitely a nod to 21st Century Schizoid Man era-King Crimson). Side Effects wouldn’t have ounded out of place in the 60s pop chart. It sort of sound like a lighter Sabbath riff, drenched in Beatles’ synths and with Marc Bolan on lyric duty. Not bad. The next few tracks are decent tunes with catchy choruses before a cover of Atomic Rooster’s Death Walks Behind You drops as the penultimate track (it’s pretty good). Bigelf save their best til last on this album – The Bitter End starts of as a slower, sort of chilled out space pop / rock tune that wouldn’t have felt out of place on a Bowie record. It’s very good, and the instrumental / guitar solo in the back half is beautifully done.

Overall [3]
A prefectly decent debut. It’s a bit derivative, but I don’t mind too much as it’s from an era that doesn’t get huge amount of mainstream play these days.

Best tracks:
The Bitter End, Death Walks Behind You.


hexHex
Hex came out in 2003 and saw the band add Black Sabath / Ozzy and Pink Floyd to the bands they homaged. The former none more obvious than on the opening track, Madhatter.

The central tune is very Black Sabbath with added synths, and it has a neat intrsumental clip that recalls thr outro to Motorhead’s Ace of SpadesBats in the Belfry II is stylistically closer to the sound on Money Machine, if skewed towards the space rock end. It’s a decent album track, and probably better than the equivalents on the previous album. Pain Killers sees the band return to the heavier sound from the opening track. It has a pretty sweet riff that accompanies the chorus – good track. Disappear is a bit Pink Floydy. A mostly more restrained track, and the album is better for it. The change of pace and mood following Pain Killers works in its favour and is a good example of how track placement on an album can elevate the experience. I thought Rock & Roll Contract was a bit forgettable, but Sunshine Suicide is better (the riff is another nod to Sabbath, and the track wouldn’t sound amiss amongst a plethora of psychedelic stoner bands doing the rounds these days). Falling Bombs is pure filler, while Black Moth and Carry the Load are a bit better. From the song structure point of view, Burning Bridges sounds like a spritual sequel to Pain Killers (if sonically softer). Bats in the Belfry I is a longer, proggier take on the track that appeared earlier on, with some aspects of Pink Floyd dropped in for good measure. An interesting track, though II is catchier. Still, a solid closing track.

Overall [3.5]
Better than its predecessor, though the back end loses some steam.

Best tracks:
Madhatter, Pain Killers, Disappear


cheat-the-gallowsCheat the Gallows
Release in 2008, Cheat the Gallows saw the band refine their sound a little. Everything just sounds that bit more polished – this is their most professional output to date.

Gravest Show on Earth is a sort of full legnth intro to the whole album. There’s very much a proggy carnival feel that reminds me a bit of ELP, amongst others. The carnival feel contibues through to the catchy-yet-still-proggy seven minute Blackball. Whilst a (better) stripped back version appears as a bonus track on the previous album, the Floydian Money, It’s Pure Evil is still a great track. Somehow, they manage to top this with their greatest, most epic rock track to date with The Evils of Rock & Roll. The next coupel of tracks are decent filler (No Parachute better than The Game), before the band gives their first proper take on AC/DC or KISS-esque stadium rock. It comes off pretty well, and nice to see the band expanding their horizons a bit. Race With Time sort of sounds like what you’d expect a single for a Hollywood sci-fi sountrack to sound like these days. There’s certainly more Floydian licks here too. Hydra begins with a chuggy intro more reminiscent of Deep Purple or maybe Rainbow. Over the next few minutes, it morphs into it’s own proggy space rock beast. Speaking of proggy space rock beast, closing track Counting Sheep is an 11 minute behemoth. While it has some good parts is does sound lime it’s lnog for the sake of it. The outro bod to Sgt. Pepper’s is a nice tough though.

Overall [4]
Their strongest album to date. Like Hex is suffers some drop off in the back half of the album, but nowhere near as badly as that record. If you replaced the two or three poorer tracks from this with the better ones from Hex you’d probably have a classic.

Best tracks:
The Evils of Rock & Roll, Money, It’s Pure Evil, Blackball


into-the-maelstrom– Into the Maelstrom
Their most recent album. The space rock, pyschedelic and retro vibes remain, though we’ve moved a little more toward Bowie-delia than Beatle-delia by this point.

Incredible Time Machine is a sort of half intro, half song – it’s not bad. While it’s not really on a part with the best tracks from their previous effort, Hypersleep still is still a catchy track once it’s kicked in. Already Gone is a better song, and defintely ‘single release worthy’. Alien Frequency is a better quality album track, elevated by some interesting passages. The Professor & The Madman didn’ overly do much for me, yet it retained a sort of foot-tapping quality for the most part. Mr. Harry McQuhae  is an odd track that seemingly doesn’t know what it’s meant to be. I wasn’t fussed about Vertigod, but Control Freak was a step up and better than the last few tracks. High is a pretty tasty slab of prog -definitely one of the better offerings on the album. Edge of Oblivion is a more malevolent sounding song, that gets better as it goes along. Theater of Dreams is a very pleasant tune that wouldn’t sound out of place on something like Sgt. Peppers. ITM rounds things out with a pretty ambitious space rock opera. It’s better and more interesting that the equivalent on previous albums, and a solid closer.

Overall [3.5]
A pretty good album, though without the absolute standout tracks that Cheat the Gallows has. Still, there’s plenty here of interest.

Best tracks:
High, Already Gone, Theater of Dreams


 

That concludes this month (and year!). Looking back over the year, I’ve listened to some interesting artists and found some albums I genuinely really enjoyed.

For those interested, I’ve correlated the average scores of the discographies I checked out. You can see that list below:

3.6 / 5 Alice In Chains
3.5 / 5  Witchcaft, Reverend Baizarre, Rise Against, Ghost, Bigelf
3.42 / 5 Mastodon
3.38 / 5 The Darkness
3.1 / 5  Amplifier, Strapping Young Lad
3 / 5 The Mars Volta
2.7 / 5 Sum 41

I’ll likely do this again in 2017. If anyone has any suggestions for bads to check out, let me know!