Guest interviewer, Antoine Richard (operator of Metantoine’s Magickal Realm), sits down with Jean-Pierre Abboud, an American musician known for his involvement with the excellent heavy metallers Borrowed Time and, more recently, the Canadian epic doomsters of Funeral Circle. I’m glad he took the time to answer these questions.
Only few bands can claim that they’ve been around for 32 years (or 37, if prior names are included), without taking a few decades off, even less that they have released 14 albums during that span and hardly anyone can really lay claim to having thoroughly influenced a whole sub-genre and role-modeled for literally hundreds, if not thousands of bands of that style. Hamburg’s Helloween fall into each of these categories and are back with their 15th studio effort My God-Given Right (also marking the 10th with former Pink Cream 69 singer Andi Deris on the mic) and over the past few albums the Germans had been kind of able to hold their ground, but saw a sizeable number of younger bands pass them in the process.
The pumpkin heads are kind of stuck between trying to cling to their past groundbreaking endeavours while embracing the more mature sound of their more recent efforts, and with “Heroes” kick things off in style, with a relatively light verse giving way to a powerful and catchy chorus. “Stay Crazy” convinces with its energy (even if it is nothing big in itself), while “The Swing of a Fallen World” has this darker atmosphere and contrasting speedy solo that makes it one of the album’s best songs. “Creatures in Heaven” also can be put in the win column with its memorable riff, but once one goes into the math of the album, things don’t look as sunny anymore.
With 13 songs total and 61 minutes of playing time, four songs that will stand the test are not a very promising ratio and most of the album seems to be somewhat going through the motions and up to a point a veteran band has maybe a little more leeway than one that is just starting out, yet there is playing safe and playing safe. The sticky chorus of “Battle’s Won” goes into an oddly down-sung that just doesn’t make sense, but other than that most of the rest is Helloween, yes, but nothing more, lacking the spirit and fire to kick the songs onto the next level, instead mildly entertaining the listener while they play, but after that disappearing from the memory just as fast as they came in.
While not inherently bad, My God-Given Right shows some glimpses of what had made Helloween such an outstanding band in the past, but around these glimpses one can see the cracks in the facade and when even long term fans agree that this would have made an absolute killer EP, it shows that things aren’t looking as good anymore as they used to.
Obviously it is both hard and kind of unfair trying to compare a band to groundbreaking genre highlights from more than 25 years ago, and most fans will be understanding enough, yet the question arises, if the band should continue to tarnish their armour or just draw a line and end it for good? As mentioned above, if My God-Given Right had been released by a young band as debut or second album, chances are that the review would be a whole lot more positive, talking about potential and experience, but some needed work. After 32 years, though, this is not an option anymore…
The big licks.
When you consider the band name Pitbulls in the Nursery, do you visualize wide-muzzled dogs, rabid and feasting on pools of soft and steaming infant guts? Or perhaps you imagine a well-kept daycare void of human guardians, patrolled instead by a gang of faithful canines intent on keeping their newborn friends alive and away from harm? Whatever you choose to picture, rest assured that this unification of odd feelings and swaying analyses will fit neatly with the approach of these French lunatics.
Back from a nine-year layoff, and void of a Panda, the experimentally extreme progressive death metal band Pitbulls in the Nursery have returned with their long-lusted for second full-length release, Equanimity, and it sounds every bit as dynamic and out-there as one would expect from a French metal export.
Signed to Klonosphere and flanked by other rhythmically inclined acts like Klone and Trepalium, Pitbulls fit neatly into this heavily groove-influenced camp of odd-time signatures, thundering riffs, and genre fusion. Bands like Meshuggah, Car Bomb, and Gojira instantly spring to mind, but so does a well of early 2000s acts that may or may not be related to the oft-disparaged nu-metal generation. New vocalist Tersim Backle’s lyrical output is expressive and cyclical, repeating lines until they grow and fester, and both his raspy screams and the band’s predilection for bizarre notes and jazzy swells remind of Mudvayne’s wholly underrated The End of All Things.
But in spite of these shaky reference points, Pitbulls are first and foremost their own eclectic entity, and they start things off at fever pitch with “Crawling,” a nearly nine-minute welcome-back that absolutely stuns on the tail-end of its gorgeous guitar leads and drum patterns, ultimately detonating into an absolute whirlwind of Tool-escapism. Likewise, a recurring trait on Equanimity involves the band’s decision to incorporate passages of unique subtlety, quelling the speed factor in favor of dialed-down ambiance and jazzed-up theatrics. Bits of this can be gleaned in nearly every song, but none leave as fine a mark than those found on “Reality” or the reggae-esque “Soul Bones.”
The template on Equanimity is surely of the more percussive and rhythmic variety, with tracks stuttering and blasting off in countless directions and tempos, but it’s the record’s modern, quasi-urban attitude that works wonders in keeping things delightfully off-balance and fresh. The songs do much of the same, but then are also just as likely to be totally different from any other band you hear in 2015. Sure, there’s The Link-era Gojira and mid-to-late 90s Meshuggah to be discerned, but the sheer irregularity and implacable charms of Pitbulls in the Nursery will keep this album spinning. Not quite the deranged masterpiece that was Lunatic, but this larger, more ambitious brute may offer even more in the long run.
…and unevenness for Y’all
Weedeater’s modus operandi has always been to take sludge in its most elemental form and blend it with just the right amount of fuzzy stoner and so-downtuned-you’d-swear-the-strings-are-dragging-in-the-dirt doom metal that one could never be sure whether their weighty tunes are emanating from a moss-covered cave or the smoky bar down the road. What makes this band and their roots-sludge so charming is that they are perhaps a textbook example of a band succeeding in spite of itself; “Dixie” Dave Collins’ sandblasted vocal delivery is fucked up beyond belief (even within the parameters of sludge), the riffs are as ridiculously simplistic and they’ve never demonstrated any sense of savvy when it comes to the pacing and sequencing of their albums. Nit-picking be damned, though—when that patented southern-fried groove kicks in all is well (and heavy) in the world.
Speaking of which, how heavy is that album title?! In what could only be a portmanteau consisting of Goliath and Leviathan, the title invokes a beast that’s just as deadly on land as it is in the fathomless depths of the sea. That the skies would offer the only refuge seems only fitting considering that the smoking of certain herbal accoutrements is essentially a prerequisite for the optimal appreciation of this kind of music. Given the quasi-religious vibes of the gentle organ on intro piece “Processional,” a Bible might come in handy too, yet by the time Dixie starts mumbling something about hating an unnamed person’s face it becomes clear there won’t be tent revival meetings any time soon. As pretty as the piece is (it almost channels Cat Stevens in some weird way), the title track would’ve made for a much better intro—it’s raw as dogbollocks riffs and mountains of reverb do a fine job of tolling the Apocalypse bell (not to mention the fact that Dixie’s ultra-raspy repetition of the title near the end is quite foreboding in and of itself).
When “Cain Enabler” follows suit in equally drab fashion it becomes clear that Dixie and co. have taken the Weedeater sound to a far darker place than usual – and not necessarily in a good way. This tonal shift into the blackest regions of the void is more than a little reminiscent of the metamorphosis The Gates of Slumber exhibited on The Wretch, insofar as the mood is bleaker and the doom enjoys pride of place over the sludge and stoner influences. Perhaps this darker character canbe ascribed to them deciding to throw down seeing as how the year has already seen great releases by the likes of Acid Witch (and with highly anticipated releases by High on Fire and Goatsnake on the horizon). Oh, and let’s not forget the rather acrimonious departure of long-time drummer Keith “Keko” Kirkum (replaced by former Zoroaster drummer Travis Owen) and middling response from some quarters to 2011’s Jason… The Dragon. If so, it would be a little ironic since Goliathan suffers from the same problem as its predecessor, particularly in terms of pacing. The soft (and ultimately pointless) interludes scattered throughout Jason… show up here again, completely messing up the flow of the album.
I can’t envision any world in which an album like this needs the post-Bone Machine Tom-Waits-on-hallucinogens banjo and harmonica ditty that is “Battered & Fried,” not to mention the fact that “Reprise” and “Benaddiction” round out the album by effectively offering nothing but faint power chords and bluesy leads that fade out for what sounds like an eternity. These moments are frustrating not only because they take the wind out of the album’s sails but because they could (and should) have been worked into fully fledged songs (a reworked version of “Benaddiction”) would’ve added a nice shot of Firebird-styleswing to proceedings. On the plus side, they concocted a chest cavity collapsing heaviness on “Claw of the Sloth” that should make Electric Wizard fans all giddy, whilst “Bully” is a strange yet satisfying number in that it races out of the gates in uncharacteristically speedy fashion but somehow still manages to bust out thick fucking grooves and Corrosion of Conformity-like ugliness all within the space of two minutes.
When they’re down ‘n’ dirty like they are on tracks like these Goliathan does indeed live up to the heaviness implied by its name. It’s just a shame that the superfluous interludes never allow the album to sustain its groove and grind for any extended period of time. Throw in Dixie’s increasingly shot vocals and the end result is frustratingly uneven. Sludge and stoner fans will no doubt continue to lap it all up but it’s hard to shake the feeling that the guys need to tighten things up significantly on their next album, even if it costs them in the way of spontaneity.
Selections from all over the metal map make up this month’s best offerings.
Yob conquers Tucson. Neill has the lowdown on a night of heavy hitters.
Inferno Festival Day 4, April 4th 2015
Inferno Festival Day 3, April 3rd 2015
Inferno Festival Day 2, April 2nd 2015
Inferno Festival Day 1, April 1st 2015
The Carcass axeman gets stuck in to At The Gates, Avenged Sevenfold and people who don’t like Swansong.
Bigger names and a few hidden gems dominate this month’s best offerings
And Shawn goes rogue. Again.