August has been the strongest month for metal in 2015 yet; here’s a few of the best.
White nights of murder.
After releasing their exquisite sophomore album Blood Lust in 2011, British doom rockers Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats have found themselves on a steadily mounting trajectory. Embarking on extensive touring, including being hand-picked to open for Black Sabbath throughout Europe, they climbed the ranks and became household names within doom metal circles, a status further cemented by 2013’s sleazy cult-opus Mind Control. Combining gloomy Iommic hymns with upbeat numbers that fit somewhere between The Beatles and Roky Erickson, the fearsome foursome return with another tribute to the seedy underbelly of Charlie Manson’s sun-faded California.
Going straight for the jugular, The Night Creeper marks a return to the Hammer Horror-aesthetics that permeated Blood Lust. The main riff of “Waiting For Blood” sets the stage, crawling eerily along alongside the Uncle’s trademark vocals and psychotropic soloing. It’s a heavily murder-fixated affair, a thematic choice harkening back to the band’s often overlooked debut. The Fab Four-influence that flowed thickly through the veins of Mind Control has been toned down in favor of an increasingly somber atmosphere, with the vivid “Melody Lane” standing out as an upbeat exception. The murky production assures that a thick layer of slime covers every filthy note, setting a suitably grimy mood for the lyrical themes dealing with serial-killers, drugs, destitution, and urban decay.
A side-effect of the tighter musical focus, there are moments spread throughout The Night Creeper that come across as repetitive. The main offender comes in the form of “Pusher Man”, which features a main riff taken straight from Mind Control’s “Mt. Abraxas”. On the flipside, acoustic interludes break up the monotony, with the prolonged psychedelic rock number “Slow Death” conjuring lurid imagery of acid dreams. With tracks such as these, Uncle Acid and his deadbeats prove that they are still willing to push forward, continuing the steady development that began with Blood Lust. As a whole, The Night Creeper might not be as accessible as Mind Control, but the heavier and darker pathways are skillfully traversed.
Photo by Eivind Nakken
The incremental changes in sound works in Uncle Acid’s favor on The Night Creeper, and will undoubtedly hit the mark with followers of the band, without the formula wearing thin. Brilliantly combining traditional doom metal sounds with just the right amount of cheesy horror elements, the heavy psych feels timeless despite having roots firmly planted in the 60’s. The Night Creeper marks another alluring trip through the blood-spattered back alleys and debauched brothels that constitute the shady world of Uncle Acid.
“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.
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