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.
Welcome to Yob University.
Oregonian doom trio Yob have just about seen it all – they’ve disbanded and regrouped, played basement barrooms and gray-skied festivals, and they’ve even went arena, sharing sold-out stages with Tool during a few East Coast and West Coast runs, including one earlier this year. A quick look at their résumé tells a story as clear as day – Yob hit their stride a long time ago.
With Aaron Rieseberg on bass, Travis Foster on drums, and Mike Scheidt on guitars and vocals, the same cast responsible for 2009’s The Great Cessation and 2011’s Atma have returned with Yob’s seventh full-length album in Clearing the Path to Ascend, a record that leans a little more towards the spiritual side of things than it does trailblazing up a mountainside.
Since Atma’s release and successive, relentless touring, Yob’s members have managed to keep themselves entertained – Foster and former Yob bassist Isamu Sato dabbled and dissected with the experimental blackened folk metal act Hail, Aaron Rieseberg plucked strings for sludge-doom metal quartet Norska, and Scheidt, the busiest bee, completed an acoustic solo project, joined forces with black metal group Vhöl, collaborated with John Baisley, Nate Hall, and others on the second volume of the Songs of Townes Van Zandt compilation, and he also aided in the construction of the Lumbar masterpiece The First and Last Days of Unwelcome with Tad Doyle and Aaron Edge. Thankfully, Yob’s creative well has yet to run dry.
In contrast to Atma or The Great Cessation, which come off as entirely more ‘metal’ offerings, Clearing the Path to Ascend contains four tracks that further develop the band’s affinity for the esoteric and the transcendent, and when coupled with the album’s drag-along tempos, the result is yet another achingly heavy psychedelic doom metal affair that bears greater spells of melody, entrancement, and some of Scheidt’s most seasoned singing.
The opener “In Our Blood” acts as the record’s quintessential tune, setting the precedent with qualities the succeeding three tracks soon expound. It’s a sprawling introduction, loaded with tempestuous mood, room-stuffing distortion, and the marriage of Scheidt’s unmistakable cries and his equally distinct thunder-meets-lightning guitar lines. It’s a stark and dissolving doom affair with a just-audible recurring sample that accurately embodies the music and emotions felt therein – desperation borders redemption.
The second and most aggressive track on the album is “Nothing to Win,” a rolling and rumbling High On Fire-driven sludge-doom vehicle that contains the large majority of the record’s head-banging. Essentially playing off a single cyclical and buzzing riff, the rhythm section’s warbling bass and heavy use of tom drums give it a fierceness and a pace not seldom used by Yob, a peculiarity that instantly brands it the album highlight, even if the most majestic is still to come.
Taking top prize for the most despondent track on Clearing the Path to Ascend is “Unmask the Spectre.” Slaving along painfully, it’s a gloomy crush of a song that embraces its funeral doom attire while sticking firm to its mystical guns that continue to blast off with plumes of foggy notes and shuddering drums. A most challenging episode, no doubt, and an oddly exhaustive buzzkill, as sad and as cathartic as it is, that lulls you into a trance as it compresses you into a flattened pulp. Kill the lights for this one.
In stark contrast to “Unmask the Spectre” and, well, the rest of the album, the closing “Marrow” is Yob taking flight with a gorgeously psychedelic send-off. Replete with zephyrs and low-lying cumulus, it’s an ethereal experience, a song that seems so at peace with itself and its own sentience that it just cruises, aided only by the vocal caress of Scheidt, a man who delivers what is perhaps the most moving performance of his studio career. And for a track longer than most EPs, “Marrow” showcases the acumen of a band both gifted and polished, entirely comfortable playing and rocking within their own doomy niche.
Yes, Yob take their time with each tale and every magically spun yarn – the shortest track on Clearing the Path to Ascend still clocks in at over 11 minutes – but a little patience, a prudent ear, and a pumping stereo system will prove invaluable. Still, time is but an invention, and there’s no telling just how often you’ll come back, nor how many times you’ll become lost inside Yob’s latest creation.
Three Times Tornillo. Sold.
Accept has been alive and kicking, in some form or another, since their inception as Band X in 1968. Even if you base Accept’s longevity off of their official birth year of 1976, when they adopted the Accept moniker, that still makes the band nearly four decades old. Interestingly enough, this newest incantation of Accept, featuring Mark Tornillo, the not-so-new-anymore vocalist, shows the band at their most invigorated and furious in history. Blind Rage, the third full length since Tornillo’s induction in 2009 and fourteenth overall, continues the band’s trend of sounding exactly like classic Accept; full of classic hooky riffing, piss and vinegar attitude and generous amount of fist-pumping, arena styled choruses.
Both previous Tornillo-lead albums, Blood of the Nations and Stalingrad, showed Accept with a new found energy, which had been all but absent throughout the band’s work in the nineties. There was much skepticism as to whether or not Accept could continue their ass-kicking, rejuvenated version of, well, classic Accept, but with their third album into their reformation they seem to be showing no signs of slowing down. Blind Rage continues the Tornillo-era tradition of sounding like classic Accept, with catchy, heavy riffing, classy leads, driving rhythms and Tornillo’s scraped throat vocals. Tornillo is on fire, once again, sounding every bit as venomous as Udo Dirkschneider but with more range and variety in his approach.
While the rest of the band certainly aren’t slouching, the guitar duo of Wolf Hoffman and Herman Frank are unstoppable. From speedy barn burners like “Stampede”, featuring adrenaline fueled paces, to the more restrained, classic heavy metal riffing of “Bloodbath Mastermind”, these two manage to inject groove and melody into their heavy and driving riffs. Perhaps the most memorable aspects of the duo’s fretwork is the combination of melodically inspired soloing amidst the crunchy riffs, like on the album’s closer, “Final Journey”, which also shows off a fair supply of syncopated melodies. The rhythm section does a fine job, with longtime member Peter Baltes providing a thick and meaty counterpoint to the crunchy guitar riffs and Stefan Schwarzmann’s drum work galloping forward with some highbrow handwork.
A few sections spurn the fast paces and classic metal crunch, turning instead to an eighties arena-rock feel, like “Dark Side of My Heart” and “Fall of the Empire”. Although the band has always excelled at the gang chorus-led oh’s and ah’s that normally come with the style, it really only serves to slow the pace down which is not this version of Accept’s strongest feature. Take away these slower sections and you’re left with one hell of a heavy hitting classic metal album. Blind Rage continues the Tornillo fronted version of Accept’s dominance of the sound they first pioneered nearly forty years ago. The bottom line is that if you like any version of Accept, Blind Rage is a no-brainer.
(r)Evolution to Retrogression.
Hammerfall has had a steady and rather successful career; remaining one of the most consistent forerunners of the power metal scene. Twenty-one years and two hiatuses since their formation, (r)Evolution, the band’s ninth full length album, shows Hammerfall returning to their roots. Consistency was a part of strong part of Hammerfall’s repertoire until their last album, Infected, which saw the band completely shifting from their unwavering traditional power metal sound into darker territories via choppy song structures and plodding rhythms. Regardless of where fans and critics placed Infected, it seems that the band’s retreat into a different approach only lasted one album. For once, it seems that a record label has finally lauded a band’s return to form correctly, as (r)Evolution certainly sounds like an amalgamation of Hammerfall’s early albums.
The album starts off in fine form, heralding back to the days of Glory to the Brave and Legacy of Kings, as “Hector’s Hymn” could sit side by side with longtime favorites such as “The Dragon Lies Bleeding” and “Stronger Than All”. Fast paced and rollicking, the palm muted riffs with trailing, ringing power chords combine with fast paced yet simplistic drumming, channeling Hammerfall’s glory days. “Origins” and “Wildfire” show more of that speedy spark and could certainly make the cut for Hammerfall’s future tour output. Everything that made Hammerfall’s early work so sickeningly sweet is here in fine form; from Joacim’s ultra clean, high pitched delivery, chunky palm muting and anthemic choruses bursting out the seams. That said, Joacim’s vocals are just as stellar as ever, sounding at his best since 2002′s Crimson Thunder. The extremely clean production, courtesy of Fredrik Nordström who worked with Hammerfall for the first time since Legacy of Kings, gives the album an authentic, late nineties feel.
Despite the few high energy, rollicking tracks, (r)Evolution contains a ton of middle of the road plodding. Not that it’s always a bad thing when Hammerfall does mid-paced power metal: Crimson Thunder was full of mid speed anthems and that album was top notch. “Evil Incarnate” seems to be the worst offender of a typical, mid-paced filler track, as the music trudges along not really going anywhere. “(r)Evolution” and “Bushido” prove that Hammerfall can still do interesting mid-paced songs, by grooving along and adding super catchy vocal hooks on the choruses, but not for an entire offering. In true Hammerfall form, the band decided to, once again, include a ballad, this time in the form of “Winter is Coming”, which really just takes up space and isn’t intriguing in the least bit. Then again, when have Hammerfall’s ballads ever been anything more than filler?
(r)Evolution certainly makes a strong attempt at rekindling those templar flames of old. The few stand out tracks here are solid and invoke a strong sense of nostalgia for the days of Glory of the Brave, but one’s enthusiasm needs to be curbed as there’s a good amount of filler mixed in. This may not be Hammerfall’s greatest album to date, but it’s a step back towards the right direction. Joacim’s vocals are the strongest they’ve been in years and the riffs are prime Hammerfall, oozing with that traditional power metal sound. This will certainly please fans of the older material, but just don’t expect this to completely knock your socks off. Cheesy lyrics, simplistic rocking power metal and Joacim’s trademark squeaky clean vocals won’t win over any new fans to Hammerfall’s crusade, but it’s their best in quite some time.
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
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Tons Of Rock Day 3, June 21st 2014
Tons Of Rock Day 2, June 20th 2014
Tons Of Rock Day 1, June 19th 2014
The Suicide Silence guitarist opens up about the death of Mitch Lucker, getting the band back together, and their badass new record You Can’t Stop Me.
The Metal Observer recently had the chance to speak with the legendary founder and driving force behind Falconer, Stefan Weinerhall. Returning with the band’s eighth studio album, Black Moon Rising, which recently dropped on Metal Blade Records, Weinerhall speaks about the intensity of the new album, his approach to songwriting and influences, among other things.
A star-studded line-up this week, for what’s shaping up to be the penultimate entry in the TMO Singles Roundup series, featuring new music from Opeth, In Flames, Sonic Syndicate, Mastodon and ’68.