“Wrong, dickhead, trick question. Lemmy is god.”
After an alarming health scare in 2013, many were left wondering if Lemmy Kilmister would continue to soldier on. Motörhead assured fans that everyone’s beloved whiskey loving mainman was doing well, having traded bourbon for vodka while cutting back on the smokes a bit (Lemmy admitted that he’s unlikely to stop altogether, as he’s been smoking since he was eleven). Despite the health woes, Lemmy claimed that he’s still indestructible and vows to continue performing until he can’t physically get on stage anymore. To prove his point, Motörhead, in their fortieth year of existence, along with Lemmy at a mere sixty-nine years young, released their twenty-third album, 2015′s Bad Magic.
Much like the rest of their career, Bad Magic could be described as business as usual. Lemmy’s healthier lifestyle choices, if we can call them that, prove to have little effect on his performance, as he’s still able to channel that whiskey-drenched, gruff delivery that only decades of living in sin could produce. Joined again by Phil Campbell on guitar and Mikkey Dee on drums, Motörhead continues with their twelfth album featuring this lineup. It’s safe to say that Bad Magic sounds mighty similar to the band’s last two decades of albums, but one of Motörhead’s strongest points over the years has been their ability to sound fresh and virile despite their longevity.
Falling in line with the band’s previous outing, Aftermath, the tracks on Bad Magic bring a wide swath of sounds, from the fiery and destructive “Shoot Out All of Your Lights”, with it steamrolling percussion, to the catchier, rollicking sounds of “Fire Storm Hotel”, which focuses Lemmy’s gruff tones and Phil’s bluesy rock licks. “Till the End” is one of Motörhead’s finest ballads in years as well, paying fine tribute to Lemmy’s rough delivery while Phil brings a solid melody. Really, Bad Magic is an amalgamation of all of Motörhead’s strongest points. The driving bass lines and ferocious riffs, not to mention Mikkey’s thundering double kicks, sound like a band rejuvenated, without belying the band’s four decades of experience. Let’s not forget the bonus track, which is a cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil”, which brings Motörhead’s edge to the classic, while not straying far from the original.
While there has yet to be an inherently bad album in Motörhead’s catalog, Bad Magic shows the band at their strongest in quite some time. Perhaps Lemmy’s health scare brought a renewed vigor and fueled a fire under their collective asses during song writing. Despite the reduction in smokes and booze, Motörhead’s latest effort captures the band’s essence with a blend of rollicking heavy metal, hard rock swagger and bar room attitude. Bad Magic shows that Motörhead is unstoppable and Lemmy is, indeed, indestructible.
Strap yourself in.
Soilwork seem to have a “Star Trek effect” going on, where it’s every other of their albums that’s truly brilliant. They may have bucked the trend with the back-to-back release of A Predator’s Portrait (2001) and Natural Born Chaos (2002), and—besides the lackluster Sworn To A Great Divide (2007)—the intermittent releases have all been formidable in their own right, but it seems like it’s on every other release that Soilwork consistently make a huge leap forward, and The Ride Majestic is no exception.
Soilwork’s last record—the unprecedented double album The Living Infinite—was a fine release, and by all means a successful and admirable venture. However, the novelty of its format aside, The Living Infinite has since slipped into the less-notable ranks of Soilwork’s hefty catalog—being, at heart, a fairly bloated, run-of-the-mill release by the band. The Ride Majestic, on the other hand, is an album characterized by the sort of scope and ambition that would warrant the extended format, while presenting one of Soilwork’s most concise and enticing listens to date.
It’s The Ride Majestic’s softer sections that stand out on first listen and ultimately set it apart from the rest of Soilwork’s formidable output. Vocalist, Björn “Speed” Strid—the band’s lone-remaining founding member1—has never been in better form than he is here, and it’s his effortless shifts between vicious harsh vocals and lofty cleans that carries The Ride Majestic at its heart. Strid’s constant and graceful shifts from death metal screeches to soaring pop melodies—in the vein of later Devin Townsend and Ihsahn’s more melodious moments—are breathtaking in scope and flawless in delivery, and it’s these seizing, softer moments on “Petrichor By Sulphur,” “Whirl Of Pain” and “All Along Echoing Paths” that make for the album’s best.
However, The Ride Majestic is also one of the heaviest and most intense records Soilwork have delivered in some time. Not since A Preadator’s Portrait (2001) have Soilwork written music this quick and compulsive—you just might not notice it at first. Beneath Strid’s soaring vocals, the rest of the band are persistently laying down memorable, and often punishing, arrangements that dazzle as much as the frontman with their own startling competence and versatility. Even the bass finds the occasional moment to cut through the mix, and it’s only really, longtime keyboardist, Sven Karlsson who fails to make his presence felt, spending much of The Ride Majestic virtually undetectable.
Anyone hanging out for Steelbath Suicide: Part Three or A Predator’s Portrait Mk. II need not apply. However, anyone with a lick of sense and an appreciation for outstanding musicianship and—above all—great songs should rush out and grab a copy of The Ride Majestic immediately.
1 Founding bassist Ola Fink departed Soilwork earlier this year, after recording The Ride Majestic.
I copped a bit of flack around here a while back for proclaiming Rivers Of Nihil’s debut album, The Conscious Seed Of Light (2013), possibly the best death metal album of the last ten years.1 While I still think that album is one of the best death metal albums of the last decade, I must admit that it is not the best.2 …Because Rivers Of Nihil’s second album, Monarchy, is not only better than their first, but towers above it—and most everything else—in undeniable supremacy.
Rivers Of Nihil’s progressive potential was certainly hinted at on The Conscious Seed Of Light but Monarchy sees them in full progressive swing. “Heirless” opens in a manner reminiscent of Gorguts or Ulcerate, before dropping into something similar to the sound of Atheist’s mighty comeback record Jupiter (2010).3 From there out, the band’s comprehensive approach sees them taking a Comprehensive approach to the death metal genre, which sees them primarily leaning toward the styles of latter-day Death and the most recent Job For A Cowboy record—the surprisingly progressive Sun Eater (2014). There’s also a hefty and brutal dose of mid-period Decapitated thrown in for good measure, including “Reign Of Dreams,” which sounds like it might have been ripped straight out of the Organic Hallusinosis sessions.
This isn’t to say Rivers Of Nihil are just an amalgamation of their impressive influences. Monarchy is anything if not distinct, and it brims with its own endearing personality. Monarchy somehow manages to be one of the most comprehensive and intense entries to the death metal canon, while also being one of its most memorable. The record is littered with catching (if not quite hummable) riffs and vocal passages, while the mostly instrumental, three-part prog odyssey of its final tracks push not only death metal, but music in general to its emotive and compositional limits.
As good as the rest of the band’s performances are, the clear standout is that of bassist Adam Biggs. Much like the approach taken on Sun Eater, the bass is really prominent in Monarchy’s mix, and often the guitars are used to lay down a wall of chords—similar to the way they are employed in “Cascadian” black metal—while Biggs’s bass supplies the melody or hook. Yet, Biggs’s six-string (yep, six) doesn’t merely take the role of a third guitar. The bass still retains a distinct, rhythmic role elsewhere and Biggs’s performance is nothing short of charismatic.
This isn’t to say, guitarists, Brody Uttley and newcomer Jon Topore’s contributions are any less vital, since they still manage to lay down an endless array of dazzling leads and complex-yet-catchy riffs. Their performances perfectly intertwine with Biggs’s and the relentless drumming of Alan Balamut, who—though he takes somewhat of a backseat on Monolith—plays with distinct personality and who offers a welcome organic dose in a genre often stilted by its own efforts to sound precise and/or otherworldly.
The classic death metal influences that characterized The Conscious Seed Of Light remain firmly in play on Monarchy. However this is a definitively progressive record that flawlessly captures everything that’s ever been great about the genre, while forcefully driving it forward at every opportunity.
2 Other possibilities I’ll entertain include Ulcerate’s Everything Is Fire (2009) and Cattle Decapitation’s Monolith Of Inhumanity (2012).
3 Another potential contender.
Retro Spotlight: Nigen-Isu – Shurabayashi (2003)
Juicy jams from the month of July.
Members of the TMO crew nominate their favorite albums from the first half of 2015.
A month low on bigger releases finds the force strong in many smaller ones.
It’s not every day that a Francophile vampire from Japan with an unhealthy obsession with roses decides to put on a concert in the United States…
Live at Beyond the Stars in Glendale, California on June 4, 2015.
Buckethead – Colma
Highlights from the powerful month of May.