Built to last, but barely scratching the surface.
Any of the previous nine albums Sick Of It All have put out over their illustrious, almost thirty-year-long career serve as irrefutable examples of why they sit proudly and prominently atop the hardcore food chain.1 The Last Act Of Defiance – their tenth album – might sound ominous in its finality, but it’s yet another unyielding addition to their outstanding catalog, even if it does feel like the band are playing it a bit too safe at this point.
The Last Act Of Defiance features the most punk-sounding Sick Of It All in a while having dropped the heavier edge that defined their last two records. While the album continues the band’s relationship with producer/mixer Tue Madsen, The Last Act Of Defiance benefits from a noticeably crisper production than Based On A True Story, and the songs it contains are bouncier and altogether more “snappy” – considerably less down-beat that the Sick Of It All of modern times.
The songs on The Last Act Of Defiance are sure to inspire their fair share of fist-pumping and slam dancing within the live arena, but they consistently fail to inspire any sort of resonance on record. There isn’t a song on the record as instantly captivating as “Death Or Jail,” or even any of Based On A True Story’s first half, and certainly nothing approaching the likes of “Take The Night Off” (the flagship tune from Death To Tyrants).
All you mothers get up and come on and get down with the Sickness.
Decibel Magazine’s Chris Dick might tout The Last Act Of Defiance as “yet another bullhorn to educate the oppressed and the misinformed,” but the lyrics clearly evidence a more introspective, or at least self-conscious, time for the Sick Of It All. The more politically aware lyrics that started on Death To Tyrants remain pervasive on Last Act Of Defiance but it’s the typical hardcore celebrations that stand out, a bit too much like a sore thumb.
“Road Less Travelled” is probably the closest Last Act Of Defiance comes to penetrating the Sick Of It All canon and is sure to become a live staple but it and especially “Act Your Age” are the standout tracks here in the manner of a sore thumb. Both tracks inspire that exact thing they rally against, namely that it’s a tad juvenile for guys now (presumably) in their mid-forties to be playing snotty hardcore.
There’s no denying that The Last Act Of Defiance is a solid, old-school hardcore record, but Sick Of It All’s contemporaries in Madball and Agnostic Front have been putting out the same in recent times to far greater effect, and it’s a record that sees the band severely outclassed by younger stalwarts (see: Comeback Kid). The Last Act Of Defiance’s song-writing is rock-solid and its energy unrelenting, but neither is it particularly memorable or inspiring, even if it can’t really be faulted.
The Last act Of Defiance is yet another Sick Of It All album that proves why they’re one of the most revered hardcore acts in the business, but it’s also one instantly relegated to the bottom of the pile.
For fans of:
Madball, Comeback Kid, Agnostic Front
If you like The Last Act Of Defiance you’ll probably dig:
1 I’ll go ahead and throw in my nomination for 2006’s Death To Tyrants as being the best (pure) hardcore album ever, closely followed by their 1989, none-more-hardcore-titled, debut Blood, Sweat And No Tears.
I must be confused. I’m pretty sure that the album I have been listening to was marked The Year the Sun Died from the reactivated underground power thrashers Sanctuary. Sure enough, the files match the track listing released by the band. Yet, I’m pretty sure I’m listening to Nevermore Lite. Perhaps my expectations for the long awaited third album from these Seattle natives were high (considering my love for their first two albums this is a definite possibility), but it’s hard for me not to be utterly underwhelmed by the forced progressive tendencies of this record.
To give them some credit, the assumption that it would be more like Nevermore than the old Sanctuary should have been made. Nevermore was a progression from Sanctuary to begin with and both vocalist Warrel Dane and bassist Jim Sheppard were the two that reactivated Sanctuary so it’s not a huge leap of the imagination. So for those who cried when Nevermore disbanded, The Year the Sun Died is going to fit nicely into that empty void in your soul.
For this reviewer though, The Year the Sun Died remains a disappointing record. Truthfully, it’s not progressive enough in its writing to truly inspire awe nor is it the thrashy record that old Sanctuary was so impressively capable of writing. The debut single, “Arise and Purify,” is handedly the best track on this album with its killer drum work and energetic riffing that allows the warbling Dane to be the big hook and melody for those power metal streaks. From there the band seems unsure of what direction they want to take their sound though and the rest of The Year the Sun Died is a roller coaster of quality.
Most of the remaining tracks are mixed bags just within themselves. “Let the Serpent Follow Me” and “Frozen” mark some great riffing and punchy moments, but the songs drag on and dwindle when they drop the tempo and start pushing the prog. The band, like Nevermore, also had a tendency to add in quite a few pseudo-ballads to the collection. “Exitium,” “I Am Low,” and “One Final Day” essentially tank the energy of the record and despite some solid executions of the idea (the acoustic guitar on the latter is impressive) the songs remain unmemorable and ultimately become ‘skip fodder’ on repeated listenings
While I am sure that the Nevermore fanbase will find more than enough to delve into with Sanctuary’s The Year the Sun Died, the lacking return to their power thrash roots did leave a sour taste for me. The record is solid enough with its modern production and execution, but this is not the Sanctuary that I remember and love. Color me jaded, but I just wanted a simpler album.
Shred your mind…
The combination of death and power metal is nothing new, even mixing in some black metal and a few clear vocals are not anything that hasn’t been done before either. Enter Chicagoan Starkill and their sophomore effort Virus of the Mind. Following on the heels of last year’s Fires of Life, the quartet around vocalist and guitar wizard Parker Jameson had some big shoes to fill, since their debut was one of the hottest the year has had to offer and only all too often young bands falter or at least stumble when having to follow up an outstanding first effort.
Virus of the Mind does not show any of these issues, because it is almost as if they took the style of their debut and injected some steroids into it, for what the Americans deliver here is nothing short of over the top and amazing. Any advocates against the use of keyboards in extreme metal should tighten the strings on their cloaks, because this wind coming off Lake Superior is stiff indeed, combining sweeping keyboard atmospheres with tight and powerful arrangements, brilliant melodies and Parker’s gruff organ complemented by some well-placed clear vocals, but just mere words hardly do justice to what Virus of the Mind unleashes at the unsuspecting listener.
The bombastic intro of “Be Dead or Die” only eases you in for the firecracker that will erupt shortly after with sewing machine double-bass, shredding guitars and the hoarse growl of Jameson, alternating with more mid-paced sections, for the almost ultimate power/death metal hybrid. And while the ingredients per se are not necessarily original, the way that Starkill put them together is nothing short of mindboggling. There are not many bands out there that can incorporate majestic keyboards and guitar harmonies into blasting drums and furious double-kicks building the foundation for the lightning fast guitar wizardry and intense vocal delivery like these young Americans.
“Breaking the Madness” breaks out from the get go, with strong double bass that rise into blastbeats, but then the same song sees majestic keyboards and even piano, with great dynamics tying everything together masterfully and the title track shows us the slower, but no less heavy side of the band that builds up this ultimately epic atmosphere. And Starkill are definitely not one-trick ponies, because “Before Hope Fades” has this light gothic metal tinge to it, slower and calmer, but it even fits into the context of the album, as odd as it may sound, given the high-energy approach of most other compositions here, just look at following “Into Destiny” that is a far more aggressive track, but not without some bombastic keyboards, epic chorus and clear vocals.
If you want Starkill at their most over-the-top, though, you have to go with “God of this World”, which definitely is the wildest track we can find on Virus of the Mind, ranging from frenetic blastbeats and frenzied guitarwork to all-out bombast and, best of all, making it all work together!
Fires of Life already had been a more than just promising debut and Virus of the Mind takes that album and takes a leap off the cliff and just plainly soars. When Shawn likened the band to a death metal version of Dragonforce in his review for the debut, he was on to something, just that this is way more than just an over-the-top frenzy to be fast for speed’s sake, but this has none of the pretentiousness, but all of the awesomeness!
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