All of April’s most-awesome metal albums all in one awesome metal place.
Further from the roots.
Katatonia’s long career can be divided into a few phases. The band’s early doom/death work produced the classics Dance of December Souls and Brave Murder Day. But starting with 1998’s Discouraged Ones, the band dropped the doom/death in favor of a depressive rock sound, which the band has pursued in various forms ever since. From Discouraged Ones to Last Fair Deal Gone Down the band displayed a straightforward rock approach with a prominent gothic element, while beginning with Viva Emptiness (and really coming into fruition on The Great Cold Distance) Katatonia pursued a heaver, progressive sound. Night is the New Day and Dead End Kings (and companion acoustic album Dethroned and Uncrowned) saw the band undergo yet another subtle style shift, this time in favor of a more subdued, atmospheric approach. That brings us to the band’s tenth album (eleventh if you count Dethroned and Uncrowned), The Fall of Hearts, and with it yet another tweak to Katatonia’s sound.
The easiest way to describe The Fall of Hearts is that it is a blend of the band’s recent subdued approach with the progressive aspect of The Great Cold Distance. Think of it as a more progressive Night is the New Day or Dead End Kings, which, to be fair, already had progressive elements but they are much more prominent here. In other respects Katatonia are breaking new ground on The Fall of Hearts; opener “Takeover,” “Residual,” and “Serac” all clock in around or over the seven-minute mark, making them the longest songs the band has written recently. This is also a much warmer, positive, and almost optimistic album musically, something I would never have thought I’d say about Katatonia, whom I’ve long been a fan of due to their dark, depressing nature. Jonas’s lyrics remain as bleak as ever though. Compared to past works, The Fall of Hearts is also a much less immediately catchy album. Katatonia can write a chorus or vocal melody like few others, and while Jonas sounds great, the album’s choruses are much less immediate and strangely muted, although there are exceptions like “Serein” and the single “Old Hearts Fall.”
Along with the increased emphasis on progressive elements, The Fall of Hearts is also the least riff-driven album the band has recorded. There’s a greater emphasis on keys, organ and piano, along with electronic elements. This is the softest album Katatonia has recorded. For better or worse, The Fall of Hearts is the culmination of Katatonia’s ‘dark lullaby’ sound they’ve pursued since Night is the New Day. The record as a whole is very lush and smooth, which fits the quiet approach. While this softer, more progressive approach will undoubtedly disappoint some, I found myself enjoying the album for the most part, as it still does what Katatonia does best-creating emotionally engaging music.
That being said there are some vintage Katatonia moments on this album, particularly on the second half. “Last Song before the Fade,” “Residual,” and “Passer” are among the album’s best and the heaviest, with “Passer,” the album’s finale, finally letting Anders Nyström and newcomer Roger Öjersson (Tiamat) shine. These songs stand out in particular because they have the best sense of dynamics on the album, whereas some of the tracks like “Shifts” and “Pale Flag” don’t have the same level of contrast. These tracks also do a great job of breaking up the light, airy tone of the other tracks, giving the album some contrast and energy.
The Fall of Hearts is a difficult album to summarize. It isn’t going to be the genre-defining classic that was Brave Murder Day; nor will it be a fan favorite like The Great Cold Distance. It’s also not the personal soundtrack, to me, of Last Fair Deal Gone Down, which is one of my favorite albums of all time. Like Opeth and Anathema, Katatonia is straying farther and farther away from their metal roots, but unlike some of their peers who have pursued less heavy directions, Katatonia are still more than capable of crafting an emotionally engaging album. Katatonia truly is an exceptional band, and while The Fall of Hearts may not be their best album, it still has plenty to enjoy.
Let’s get metal.
Looking at the cover of Total Tranquility’s gloriously-detailed cover art, you’re probably expecting something akin to a new Black Dahlia Murder album; the triumphant return of Dissection (from beyond the grave!); or even one of the many Entombed and Dismember worshiping throwback acts that seem to be popping up all over the place these days; and, while there’s no denying that ToxicRose1 are steeped in their metal ways, it’s also no secret that their sound remains firmly rooted in the kind of ‘80s-inspired hard rock that Sweden seems to have a decisive monopoly on in the modern era.
ToxicRose may have drummed up some decent hype for themselves—seeing as their drummer, Michael Sweet, is the younger brother of, reigning Swedish sleaze lords, Crashdiet’s lead guitarist, Martin—but they needn’t have bothered, since Total Tranquillity speaks entirely for itself. Some albums pose challenges that have to be grappled with repetitively before they reveal themselves, while others grab you instantly from the word “go”. Total Tranquillity is an example of the later. From the pounding opening chords of “World Of Confusion” this album demands your complete attention and rewards you with some of the best Scandanavian sleaze committed to record.
Total Tranquillity is built on a solid foundation of pounding riffs, coupled with transfixing guitar and keyboard melodies and equally-compelling vocal lines, which continually push the limits of Swedish sleaze rock’s capacity for awesomeness. Each and every moment on this album is an absolute highlight; from its fist-pumping opener throughout its epic title-track, closer. Sure, there’s a certain sameness to some of the songs—compare the chorus of “World Of Confusion” with that of “Killing The Romance”—but, despite what’s often been said on the matter, too much of something this good really doesn’t seem all that bad. Total is an album that continually pushes the bar, track after track—building upon the previous number and adding a little more each time, so that the album steadily progresses from its relatively straight-forward opening numbers to its more-extreme and accomplished conclusion.
Numerous Swedish hard rock bands have openly flirted with the heavier end of the sonic spectrum in the past, but ToxicRose might be the first act from the scene to delve head-first into the realms of heavy metal. ToxicRose retain the songwriting sensibilities of their sleaze rock brethren, but they go ahead and mix this template with driving riffs and dazzling leads; whether it’s the many dazzling solos, the many Maiden-style leads of scattered throughout or the Children Of Bodom-esque keyboard intro of “Reckless Society”—ToxicRose are never far away from convincingly asserting that they are a heavy metal band, and Total Tranquility is a heavy metal album.2 It’s as if Crashdïet finally gave way to their Sweet sibling’s transparently metallic tendencies—not to mention those of oft-Morbid Angel singlet-donning, and Opeth patch-brandishing, drummer Eric Young—and ran with it. Hard. In some cases, the allusion goes beyond subtle, such as the aforementioned “Sinner” which blends the soaring chorus of Crashdïet’s “I’m Alive” with the driving riffage of “Bound To Fall”.
Perhaps due to its somewhat misleading cover art, it’s possible that many sleaze rockers will miss this record and/or that many more extreme types will be drawn in only to dismiss it. Hopefully, the inverse turns out to be true: that Total Tranquillity gets its proper due from both parties and ToxicRose go down in history as the band that dropped all the bullshit and dragged Swedish hard rock (rather compliantly, I must say) into the realms of pure heavy metal. Debut album of the year anyone?
Evil divide, thrashers unite.
Since the reestablishment of Death Angel back in the early 00s and their comeback album The Art of Dying, they have set a trajectory that only seems to be focused towards reaching the top of the thrash metal food chain. Album after album, the band has continually refined their unique thrash metal song writing skills and it lead to the best album of their career in Relentess Retribution. Granted, I was in the minority and certainly have taken my share of internet beatings for it, but the follow up The Dream Calls for Blood was something of a step down for the band as they pulled away from their unique sound and songwriting for a dense and more straightforward thrash attack. The album was still great, but it lacked that Death Angel approach that has always set them apart from their peers as the genre has exploded and imploded in waves throughout the years. For their latest album The Evil Divide though, their eighth album in their illustriously overlooked career, the band rectifies this and drops a beastly record worthy of being discussed as one of the best in their discography – and easily one of the best metal albums released thus far in 2016.
When it comes to the thrash genre, 2016 has been a shockingly consistent year but there really hasn’t been too many stand out records that have set the bar for others to be compared to so far. A few, here or there. The Evil Divide looks to set that bar with a thundering fist and a boot to the teeth by partnering the intense thrash core with a return to Death Angel’s more diverse and textured key sound. Fans of the genre will certainly find plenty of snarling and ferocious material on the album and the talents of the band craft some concussive riffing with a speedy energy that works at very basic levels. The dueling guitar parts of melody and rhythm wrap around the song writing at warp speeds on the punky “Cause for Alarm” and the old school approach to the pissed off vitality on essentially anything in the final half of the album (starting with “Hatred United, United Hate”) makes this a thrash dream at times. It’s littered with big hooks, bigger riffs, and some of the biggest moshers that the genre has seen this year.
However, the thrash aspects that strengthen the foundations of the writing and performances on The Evil Divide are only one reason that this album works so impressively. Death Angel has always been great at thrashing when they wanted to, but their unique and often diverse writing skills have always benefited them the most when it comes to strutting their talents as musicians. “Father of Lies” drops into a melodic and progressive bridge at its midpoint, “Lost” almost pulls itself into ballad territory with its big melodic vocals and melodic guitar parts, and there is a distinctive sense of groove that pops up repeatedly throughout the record to give balance to the faster portions. “Let the Pieces Fall” is one of the best songs that blends all three textures of the album into one of the more iconic thrash anthems of the year thus far with its stomping riffs, sing-a-long chorus, and aggressive layering. The return of this intent and tone to the album not only makes for an impressive record, but it’s one that balances it so well that it easily comes off as some of the best material in Death Angel’s career.
All in all, The Evil Divide is some of the best thrashing likely to be thrashed this year. Death Angel has always had a robust and talented group of musicians, but this album is some of the most balanced, effectively written, and dynamic material of their discography. While my preference might lie with Relentless Retribution as their best album still, The Evil Divide easily ranks up there with it. If anything, it’s a statement record and one that will be used as that bar to judge every thrash record that hits in 2016.
Some mammoth offerings from the month of metal madness that was March.
Four fortissimous frolics for a fantastic Februrary!
Live at Blå in Oslo, Norway on February 11th, 2016.
PART 1: A Brief Introduction
There’s something to be said about heavy metal and pro wrestling. The mere mention of professional wrestling makes some people scoff and turn away, but so does metal. There is indeed a nice market for each of these forms of entertainment, and even a few subcultures (or sub-genres, if you will) within each field. With this in mind, heavy metal and pro wrestling are actually quite wonderful bedfellows and there is an incredible and undeniable connection between the too. Being seen as “underground” and “counterculture” by many, these two groups are quite connected, and in many ways now more than possibly ever. For the purposes of the article, we will include all forms of metal, from the more traditional to the nü-metal along with aspects of pro wrestling from the “big leagues” to the underground and independent promotions trying to make an impact on the scene.
“Louder and louder, wilder and wilder, mounted the shrieking and whining of that desperate viol. The player was dripping with an uncanny perspiration and twisted like a monkey, always looking frantically at the curtained window. In his frenzied strains I could almost see shadowy satyrs and Bacchanals dancing and whirling insanely through seething abysses of clouds and smoke and lightning.”
- H. P. Lovecraft, “The Music of Erich Zann” (1922)
As we reflect back on the year that was, and the year that lies ahead, it’s difficult to escape the fact that there are some bands that haven’t graced our eager ears with new music in quite some time. Names like Anata, Wintersun, Necrophagist, and Metallica immediately spring to mind in this regard.
Of course, there are a plethora of reasons that might cause bands and/or releases to fall into a state of extended limbo — family responsibilities, full-time jobs, line-up changes contractual disputes, lack of distribution, lack of creativity, financial constraints etc. There is an endless list of obstacles that might throw a wrench in the works between the time a band initially starts tinkering around with creative ideas in the rehearsal space and the time the finished product hits the market, yet my eternally impatient inner fanboy is always inclined to go on some entitled and self-righteous ”if you’re in a band, and you’re not releasing new music, you’re not doing your damn job!” rants.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at 20 bands that are taking their merry time to release music upon the great unwashed masses. More after the jump.
*Note: Bands are listed alphabetically.
My general perspective on metal has always been through the lens of good vs. evil, and I’ve tended to get a good mix of both sides into my metal diet, and 2015 certainly delivered a fair share of both. As with any list of greatest albums of any particular category, individual perspective makes for an imperfect result, and limited time caused me to miss a number of truly exceptional albums (Bane Of Winterstorm’s The War Of Shadows II: Upon The Throne of Ravnorakk and Ghost City’s Tragic Soul Symphony were just a couple from the power metal sub-genre alone). But hey, this is why we have so many different perspectives on this webzine. So without further adieu, here’s my Top 30 of 2015!