Coming back after 19 years can put a band in a tricky situation, especially if the album to follow is as iconic as Slaughter of the Soul. Despite having declared in 2007 that they would not release a new album, 2014 sees At War with Reality and the tricky situation is what to expect of an album like that? If they strayed too much from their original sound, fans will complain that it is not At The Gates, while if it sounded too close, they either were too late to release something like that or playing it too safe.
In the case of At War with Reality one can definitely say that they stand closer to Slaughter of the Soul than a reinvention of the band, but a carbon copy this is not. To say that the new album is not the progression some may have hoped for, is not a false statement, but given the fact that most of the bands that had originally made the Göteborg sound so big have since moved on and either added different elements to their original sound or have completely forsaken it, At The Gates sticking closer to their guns actually is more refreshing than one would think.
The differences are subtle, but definitely recognizable, from the added tightness in the guitarwork, the interplay between bass and guitars, Lindberg’s slightly deeper voice, the powerful, modern production, but the essence of At The Gates is still there. First single “Death and the Labyrinth” has everything one would expect from this band, razor sharp riffing, heavy guitars, driving drums, Lindberg’s trademark borderline-hysteric growls, lots of power and subtle melodies, just sounding contemporary. Overall At War with Reality sees the band operate less in up-tempo, but rather bring in some good rhythmic variation, with an increased use of the double bass instead of the straight thrash rhythm, which had been one factor that had set Slaughter of the Soul apart from many of its contemporaries, and also a fair amount of slower sections that add to the album..
“The Circular Ruins” surprises with fairly large slower passages, while “The Conspiracy of the Blind” stands closer to the sound that made At The Gates big, with some irresistible guitar leads and power to boot, standing in contrast to “Order from Chaos”, which sets out surprisingly quietly and stays slow, but powerful, which is not something melodic death metal these days shows a lot of. Another highlight is “Upon Pillars of Dust” with its melancholic leads lending the song a darker aura in certain places.
At The Gates solved the conundrum of potentially either standing too close to Slaughter of the Soul or too far away by creating the logical follow-up to the 1995 classic, instantly recognizable as the Swedes, but with enough progression not to just see At War with Reality as a mindless regurgitation of what once was. Not as groundbreaking as SotS for sure, but a worthy return to potentially reclaim the throne they had vacated. Very good comeback, even if not the highflyer some may have expected (or hoped for)!
Groove. Growl. Stomp. Speed. Repeat.
Having released three well-received albums after a six-year hiatus between 1997 and 2003, the wind seemed to have been taken out of Obituary’s sails when, following the release of 2009’s Darkest Day, the band suddenly found themselves sans record deal and two key members (bassist Frank Watkins, who inexplicably joined black metallers Gorgoroth and guitar wiz Ralph Santolla, whose Midas touch had given the band’s last two albums a lot of zing). Having recruited Massacre bassist Terry Butler and erstwhile live guitarist Kenny Andrews to fill out the vacant spots, the band launched a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign to cover the production costs of the new album, Inked in Blood – their first new release in five years and first to be released by their new label Relapse Records. All’s well that ends well, I suppose.
It should go without saying that in this case one’s conception of ‘well’ is entirely contingent upon one’s capacity to appreciate this band’s unflinching, bog standard brand of death metal. Their creative clock having frozen in 1992, the band’s heart still pumps blood untainted by the whims and wiles of the day and in Inked in Blood they’ve put out yet another tried ‘n’ true Obituary album denuded of everything but the most basic power chords and single note riffs. They do what they do very well even if there’s not so much as a whiff of originality at play on here. Alright, that acoustic break midway through “Visions In My Head” came out of nowhere and the melodic dynamic of this song is quite unlike anything they’ve attempted before, but aside from this brief (but brilliant) flirtation with the epic the album has no real surprises up its sleeve. You get your faster numbers like “Centuries of Lies” and “Minds of the World” (complete with Tom G. Warrior-ish ‘oohs’ and ‘uhs’), a few groove-ridden tracks (of which “Paralyzed with Fear” is the best—very much in the same ass-kicking vein as “Insane”) and of course a healthy dose of those slow ‘n’ sludgy numbers they do so well. It’s a pretty well balanced affair in this regard and the ease and conviction with which they pull it off is nothing if not commendable. John Tardy’s bellows are instantly recognizable, the rhythm section of Donald Tardy and Terry Butler lays down an impenetrable groove and the production job is surprisingly punchy (this may very well be the best drum sound they’ve ever had). Sure, the melodic flair of Santolla’s lead work is missing but prettification was never a major component of the Obituary sound anyway.
All Obituary albums are essentially variations of the same theme, and while Inked in Blood is no different in this regard it has more going for it than their last couple of releases. As of this writing it’s sitting comfortably as the best of their post-reunion output—it packs a bigger quotient as fast-paced numbers than Darkest Day (which leaned a bit too much towards the sludgy and turgid for the most part) and there’s just a smidgeon more intricacy at play here than was the case on Xecutioner’s Return. It’s subtle, but the rollicking groove of a track like “Violent by Nature” is accompanied by more tempo changes than usual and the riffs definitely have more bite than you’d think. The aforementioned “Visions in My Head” is perhaps the single most striking song they’ve penned in ages, the unexpected acoustic break segueing nicely into an extended melodic lead section that actually has a tangible sense of emotion to it. It’s not often that Obituary goes melancholy on our sorry asses, so this track is definitely something to behold. The same could be said of the album as a whole, as it does more things right than wrong and, together with Frozen in Time, easily ranks as the best thing they’ve done since the heady days of The End Complete. Welcome back, boys!
The term ‘melodic death metal’ seems to have received a stigma of genericism after the Gothenburg sound had run its course and bands were content with just rehashing instead of trying to bring their own touch to the game. Even the originators do not sound like they used to anymore, Dark Tranquillity having added different new elements, At the Gates completely disappearing (until now) and In Flames…well, let’s say they are not quite what they used to be. And now there is a “new” band from Montreal that is picking up the traditional Gothenburg sound and runs with it. “New” because they were founded in 2001, released a demo but then took 13 years to hit us with their debut album Solitary Confinement. Here are: Decadawn.
Solitary Confinement contains many of the trademarks that made this sound so big back in the 90s, the edgy, yet highly melodic guitars, often high tempo, sharp growls and this generally melodic feeling that went so well with the relative aggression of the death metal portion. But Decadawn are not just picking up an old sound and playing it, they even do not just add the element of clear vocals to the mix, no, they also inject this fresh spirit, giving it new life and energy and all in a powerful and clear contemporary production.
The clear vocals are not just an add-on for the sake of having something different, but they actually are truly excellent and could easily play the lone lead role in many more melodic bands and shine. In the case of Decadawn they add a lot to the songs and the degree of integration into the band’s sound says a lot about the talent of this quartet. “Disappear” is a very good example for this, but “It All Ends Today” is, where the edgy melodic death metal guitars, powerful drums, playful melodies and clear vocals really come together into a highly varied yet ultimately cohesive whole.
Speaking of At the Gates, for the title track the guys were even able to lure Tomas Lindberg into the studio and he leaves his gruff imprint on this track, which is not all unlike ATG in its musical direction and energy, but with the inclusion of the clear vocals gets its very own character. And even when the clear voice sees more space, as on “Even the Devil Hates You”, it does not put the album off-kilter, but works well within the construct of the whole thing, just emphasizing a different side of the band that still is omnipresent throughout other tracks as well.
Never once do you get the impression that Solitary Confinement is an independent release, with a powerful production, great musicianship and outstanding songwriting. Decadawn are one of these bands that can give melodic death metal a new life and this is absolutely label quality, even a bigger one. One of 2014’s biggest unsigned surprises and without a doubt a true highlight of melodic death metal! One to keep both eyes on!
Dubbed by their countrymen “the Japanese Black Sabbath”, Ningen-Isu has been active in their homeland since forming in 1987. Despite the band beginning to gain worldwide acclaim, their name is still not commonly known among metalheads outside of Japan. The Metal Observer was recently granted the opportunity to interview these Japanese legends on the heels of releasing their eighteenth album, Burai Houjouo, in June of 2014, which could very well be one of the band’s only, if not THE only, interview in English.
Metal has had its fair share of oddities and curiosities, and more than once, as it happens, like a two-headed beast fighting over a shared body, we come upon two bands of the very same name, an unusual instance that often spawns tensions and lawsuits. TMO has gathered the 10 most prominent of these cases, looked into how they came to be, and then at whether or not a solution was ultimately found.
It can be bizarre. It can also be off-putting. But it’s an entirely new realm of the sub-genre that can afford some great new bands and masterpieces to listeners. The power metal scene has really blossomed since the arrival of X Japan in the ’80s, and since then it’s been taken to new heights and limits.
Hans gets up close and personal with Swedish melodic death metal band Meadows End and the whole band joins in to give some insight.
“What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.”
― Salman Rushdie
The Million Dollar Grunge Album That Never Was
Tons Of Rock Day 3, June 21st 2014
Tons Of Rock Day 2, June 20th 2014