Friday, October 31, 2014

The World Within – The Candles Won’t Light Up Anymore

The World Within is an International group comprised of two members from Russia and one from Finland. “The Candles Won’t Light Up Anymore” is their debut single, and is likely to appeal to melodic death metal fans, as this track truly does sound like it comes from Finland. The song opens with a piano intro that sets the tone for a relatively melancholic, melodic tune, not unlike something one would expect in an Insomnium song. When the harsh vocals hit, however, it becomes apparent that screaming vocalist Joni Teppo is the reincarnation of Jari from Wintersun. In the beginning of the song, his vocals sound incredibly similar, though as the track goes on, he shows a bit more diversity in his sound. The harsh vocals are complemented with plenty of singing as well. Like many of the folk/melodic death metal bands that incorporate clean vocals, the singing is not particularly virtuosic, but it supports the emotion of the music well. This song might be a little bit heavy on the use of clean vocals, but there is no doubt that this singing works.

From a musical standpoint, “The Candles Won’t Light Up Anymore” is all about melody. Whether it is the piano, or the guitar leads, there is always an interesting melody going on. At times this can take away from the riffs a little bit, but this style of music is predicated on catchy and memorable melodies rather than crushing riffs. An example of this is when the rhythm guitars kick in near the beginning of the track: the guitars chug along and allow the piano to do its thing successfully. Though this song as a whole is quite lengthy, it never feels like it is stretched too thin. There is plenty of cohesion amongst the vocals and other melodies that keep things interesting for the entire runtime. The end of the song brings back the theme from the beginning, and provides a very satisfying resolution. Ultimately, The World Within has put together a pretty solid song that is a good primer for an album. Though perhaps not as emotional as Insomnium, as layered as Wintersun, or as shreddy as Children of Bodom, “The Candles Won’t Light Up Anymore” is still an excellent example of Finnish (or rather, Finnish-sounding) melodic death metal.

Be sure to check out and like The World Within on Facebook!

Final Rating
4.0/5 or 80%. 

Written by Scott

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Blindeath – Into the Slaughter

Blindeath is another Italian thrash band. Like many of their peers, this band is relatively new, having only been around for a few years. They previously released one demo and an EP, and in 2014, put forth their first full-length effort: “Into The Slaughter”. The general sound on this release is what you would expect from an Italian thrash band: lots of good riffs, somewhat distinctive vocals, and plenty of speed. The singing is the primary differentiating factor here from the legions of Italian thrash bands. The vocalist for Blindeath is somewhere in between a singer like Paul Baloff and a more blackened thrash vocalist. In that sense, his vocals are aggressive, but feel a little sloppy. This isn’t a bad thing; in fact, it really shows a nice homage to vocalists who take more influence from the rougher side of metal.

Aside from the riffs, the guitar work is pretty impressive. Opening track “Blood and Guts” has some extensive soloing, and, as you might imagine, it is virtuosic without feeling technical. This is something not contained to this track, as solid guitar work is apparent all throughout the album. The riffs tend to be largely in the Exodus vein (though as “Blood In Blood Out” just proved, nobody can even come close to matching Exodus’ ferocity). Occasionally there is something a bit different, such as the pinch harmonic abuse in “Murdered By The Beast”. Nevertheless, if you are seeking innovative riffing on “Into The Slaughter”, you won’t really find it. That statement applies equally to the songwriting as well. In fact, as much as it will pain some people to hear it, the best songs on this release are the two mosh anthems: “Moshing Maniax” and “Welcome To The Thrash Party”. These songs provide a feast of riffs and headbanging material that is sure to please thrashers (though to be fair, that applies to every song here; these two tracks just do it best).

As you may have guessed, this album does not reinvent the wheel. While not sounding identical to any other specific Italian thrash band, one can’t help but feel tired out by this point. This scene is so deep, and, with few exceptions, it feels like they all set out to make standard thrash. There’s nothing wrong with that of course, but it’s hard to recommend listening to this many thrash records from Italy, even if you’re as keen on the subgenre as I am. All the elements are here (even the enthusiasm), but unfortunately this album still feels a bit redundant.

Be sure to check out and like Blindeath on Facebook!

"Moshing Maniax"
"Welcome To The Thrash Party"

Final Rating
3.5/5 or 70%. 

Written by Scott

Friday, October 24, 2014

Skelator – King of Fear

Despite being around since 1998, American metal band Skelator has really picked things up in the last 6 or so years. “King of Fear” marks album number 4 for the band, and if this is any indication of how good their old work is, it’s safe to say they’re well on their way to dominating the American speed/heavy metal scene. As you might imagine, “King of Fear” is a relatively succinct blueprint of how to make metal that absolutely rocks. Bring together a wildly talented vocalist with screaming guitars, and you’ve got a great combination. Lead singer Jason Conde-Houston will definitely be the make or break part of this record for the listener. If you dig balls-out performances filled with screaming, shrieking, and all sorts of other high-pitched sounds, this record will satisfy. He combines the sound of Rob Halford during "Painkiller" and King Diamond with his own flare to create something quite interesting. Of course, plenty of other bands do all those wicked screams as well, but what separates Skelator is Conde-Houston’s normal singing voice. Epic is the only word to describe it. Admittedly, it does feel like he might hold back a little bit at times, only because of how potent his voice gets when he really lets it go. Nevertheless, his singing is quite distinctive, and much in the same way that bands like Gamma Ray or Overkill are instantly identifiable, Skelator’s singer will always make it easy to tell what band is currently laying waste to your ears.

Lost amongst the greatness of the vocal performance here is the fact that these 9 tracks are actually some pretty catchy tunes. Songs like “Stronger Than Steel” and “Test The Metal” are just fun to sing along to. And when it comes down to it, that’s what this style of metal is all about. The riffs are great, the melodies catchy, and the solos are virtuosic without feeling excessive. The aforementioned “Stronger Than Steel” even has a guitar solo/harmony/solo again section that takes up quite a bit of time, but it never feels like the band is showing off. Rather, they’re just taking what the gods (Priest/Maiden) taught them and adding a little bit to it. In general, the songs tend to be a bit blazing in their tempos, but there Skelator can pull off mid-paced sounds decently as well. Even when the band gets a bit on the slow side (the end of “Temple of the Witch”), they use that to their advantage creating wicked harmonized guitars that make everything more epic. 

From a production standpoint, “King of Fear” is about par for the course. It’s hard to sound exceptional in this style, because a great guitar crunch isn’t really required. It would definitely make the galloping of “Sword of the Dawn” a bit heavier, for example, but it’s not a huge issue, as it might have been if this were thrash or death metal (check out "Raging Demon" for a bit of a thrashier feel). The lead tone is absurdly good, as evidenced by the beginning of the first solo on "Curse of the Black Hand". As a whole, other than the bass, everything sounds in order here. The bass is not difficult to hear, but you can never have too much bass in the mix (well, as long as you don’t reach Manowar levels). As you might imagine, the huge guitar leads leave plenty of space for the bass to do its thing, and it does, but when the rhythm guitars return, it is definitely fighting to be heard at times. Nevertheless, the production is more than satisfactory here, as are the songs and the individual performances. For that reason, Skelator’sKing of Fear” is an essential purchase for all metal fans.  

Be sure to check out and like Skelator on Facebook!

"King of Fear"
"Stronger Than Steel"
"Test The Metal"

Final Rating
4.4/5 or 88%. 

Written by Scott

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Obituary – Inked In Blood

Obituary is absolutely legendary in the death metal scene. While nothing they’ve done in the last 20 years has ever quite competed with their first two records, you can always count on them for a reliable, caveman-esque death metal record. Their sound is bludgeoning, barbaric, and ultimately a lot of fun. “Inked In Blood” is the band’s first record in 5 years, and it wastes no time assaulting you with brutality. Less than a second into the first track, John Tardy’s demented and twisted vocals enter. He sounds as good as ever, and age is actually making him stronger. His voice is a bit higher than it used to be, and this makes his unintelligible growls even more entertaining, as there’s a bit more variety and absurdity to them. Although the opener, “Centuries of Lies” leans on Tardy a bit too much, the rest of the record does a great job of mixing instrumental parts in more evenly.

One complaint that occasionally is rallied against Obituary is that they’re too plodding, and don’t inject enough speed into their music. This album likely won’t change anyone’s mind in that regard, but it is certainly one of their faster and more brutal records. With that said, I think the more mid-paced moments are really Obituary’s bread and butter, as they’re heavy beyond belief. This brutality is aided by the production. As one would guess, the guitars and bass are a consistent rhythmic rumbling, but where this album’s sound really shines is in the drumming of Donald Tardy. His drums sound decidedly old school. The snare in particular has a fantastic crack to it. It makes each hit powerful, and it still works regardless of whether this is happening at Slayer speeds or at Sabbath tempos. This quality tone applies to his whole kit, and is most noticeable on a track like “Pain Inside”, where Tardy #2 delivers all sorts of fills and a wicked section with plenty of ride cymbal abuse.

If I were to fault this album anywhere, it would be in the songwriting. Most of the record is pretty strong, and some songs even manage to be catchy, but there are a lot of tracks here. By the time the album reaches the last couple of tracks, it feels like it has already run its course. To be fair to the band, if you’re buying this album (and you should), you probably aren’t tired of Obituary’s sound yet, so a couple more tracks is all the better. In any case, this album continues to solidify the band’s legacy as a reliable group that is still putting out worthwhile music. “Inked In Blood” more than does justice to the great name of Obituary!

Be sure to check out and like Obituary on Facebook!

"Pain Inside"
"Visions In My Head"
"Inked In Blood"

Final Rating
4.0/5 or 80%. 

Written by Scott

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Mindwars – The Enemy Within

If the name didn’t give it away, Mindwars is the new band featuring former Holy Terror guitarist Mike Alvord. The general consensus on Holy Terror in the thrash community seems split. On the one hand, I have come across a staggering number of people who proclaim Holy Terror is the best thrash band of all time; on the other, many such as myself enjoy the music but do not think they stood above the crowd in the 80’s. With that said, despite hints of Holy Terror in their music, Mindwars is definitely a separate entity. Their debut “The Enemy Within” is a more diverse offering of thrash, as it brings in influences from outside the subgenre.

Punk is definitely the first influence that comes to mind. Alvord, who is also the singer, has a huge Uncle Slam/Suicidal Tendencies vibe going on with his voice. He is a really talented singer, but is limited mostly to the sound of the aforementioned bands vocally. This vocal approach is not particularly popular in thrash these days, and that makes “The Enemy Within” a refreshing change from many other thrashers. The music somewhat parallels those bands (Uncle Slam particularly). Although things definitely get fast, they are never at speeds that are out of control, nor are they excessively heavy. This might sound like a negative thing, but it’s really a positive element to Mindwars’ music. The lack of obsession over speed means that the band can focus on songwriting, and there are a few gems in here. “Death Comes Twice”, “Final Battle”, and “Chaos” are all relatively strong cuts that focus on catchy vocal melodies, fun riffs, and lots of headbanging. “Final Battle” in particular has a great pounding rhythm to it. Other times though, they go in a different direction. “Masters of War”, for example, also is quite rhythmic, but it spends a lot of time plodding as it builds to a more interesting section.

One element of “The Enemy Within” that is fantastic is the production. It is decidedly old school. It’s a bit more laidback in its approach, but still manages to sound great. The sound leaves a lot of room for the bass and drums to breathe, and these band members capitalize on this. The fills are really accented because of how lifelike and non-mechanical the drums are. One section where it all comes together perfectly to display the production’s merits is in the guitar solo section of “Chaos”. The solo is shredding and Alvord has a great tone, but the drums are monstrous as well, leaving plenty of room for Alvord to do his thing.

On the whole, “The Enemy Within” is a pretty solid record. Despite its 2014 release, this album is more likely to appeal to those fans seeking old-school sounding thrash. The Holy Terror connection seems more in name than sound, but fans of Holy Terror should still check this album out. Again, this album is most recommended to fans of Uncle Slam because every time I listen to “The Enemy Within”, I get huge vibes of “Say Uncle”. This is still a unique record in its own right, but that is definitely the closest comparison.

Be sure to check out and like Mindwars on Facebook!

"Death Comes Twice"
"Final Battle"

Final Rating
3.8/5 or 76%. 

Written by Scott

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Exodus – Blood In Blood Out

After a long, long wait, the new Exodus record has finally arrived. Since the band’s last full-length album, things have changed quite a bit. Band leader Gary Holt has been pulling double duty as he tours with both Exodus and Slayer (often times simultaneously), and just earlier this year, frontman Rob Dukes was left behind in favour of returning vocalist Zetro. While most Exodus fans could likely write an entire book about their thoughts on Dukes (either positive or negative; I fall somewhat in both camps), the band is moving on without him. “Blood In Blood Out” is definitely not “Tempo of the Damned Part II”, but it definitely does bring back some thoughts of that album, primarily because of Zetro rather than the songwriting.

To be fair to Exodus, they have not compromised their sound for a second since returning in 2004. But they have progressed. “The Atrocity Exhibition – Exhibit A” showed a move to longer, more epic and progressive song structures. “Exhibit B: The Human Condition” still retained a couple of lengthier tunes, but in general, it cut down the individual song lengths while favouring faster, punchier tracks. In this respect, “Blood In Blood Out” is a continuation of the last record, only with Zetro on vocals. This aggression is most noticeable on the opening two tracks; after a short intro from Dan The Automator (whoever that is!), Exodus starts thrashing and rarely stops. Although there are slower moments (such as the groovy “Salt The Wound” or the more melodic and epic “My Last Nerve"), “Blood In Blood Out” features a lot of speed. As the album continues on, it continually gets increasingly impressive how Gary Holt (who wrote 9 of the 11 tracks) spits out riffs like rapid fire. As the record nears the one-hour mark, you might be expecting the band to get a bit tired, but even the very last track, “Food For The Worms”, thrashes absurdly hard. In fact, this song has the most pummeling and insane riff that an Exodus album has seen since “Deathamphetamine”.

As was just mentioned, this album is long. Many Exodus fans have made it clear that the recent records are far too lengthy, and Gary has made it equally clear that he has no intention of changing things up, but the good news is that this album is definitely better in its playing time than recent efforts. For one thing, “Blood In Blood Out” is about 10 minutes shorter than each of The Atrocity Exhibitions. This makes a huge difference in terms of holding the listener’s interest, and makes the album quite manageable to get through in one sitting. The other reason why this record’s length isn’t a complete detriment is because Gary and other guitarist Lee Altus (who wrote the other two tracks) really stepped up the songwriting. There is not a single weak track on the record, nor a moment of boredom. It isn’t particularly clear which element caused Exodus’ reinvigoration (Zetro’s return, Gary touring with Slayer, or having 4 years to write and record the album), but it is clear that this is Exodus’ strongest effort in the last decade.

One thing that continually astounds me about both Exodus and “Blood In Blood Out” is just how much better the riffs are than 99% of other thrash bands. Longtime readers of this ‘zine are well aware of many Exodus clones there are out there, to the point where I often use the term “Exoclone” or “Exoriff” because so many bands ape this sound. Despite how many times it feels like I’ve heard an Exodus-styled riff, when written by the master himself, Gary Holt, they are much more original sounding, and of much higher quality. In fact, the only riff on this album that sounds a bit repetitive given the band’s back catalogue is the main riff from “Salt The Wound”. Nevertheless, Zetro’s fantastic delivery of the lyrics and even the guest guitar solo from Kirk Hammett prop this track up quite a bit.

At this point, it is worth discussing Zetro’s re-appearance in Exodus. Although his voice always has his classic sound to it, there’s no doubt he’s turned up the aggression considerably since the 80’s. In projects like Tenet, he screams his lungs out, but in both Exodus and Hatriot, he manages to vary up his vocals as much as possible. This shows both his melodic side and his hostile approach. His anger comes through well in a track like “Numb”, which gives an apathetic view of the world. Though Dukes was also quite harsh in his delivery, this is something only Zetro could really pull off. Another highlight of Zetro’s is the title track, where he spits out words at a mile a minute, all with the intent of creating a thrashing beast that cannot be tamed. When combined with Gary’s always-brutal riffs, the end result is one of the best tracks on the record.

From a production standpoint, “Blood In Blood Out” sounds quite similar to the last few records. Bassist Jack Gibson is definitely more prominent than he’s been in the past (though he’s always been easy to hear), but things are the same otherwise. The guitars have the heaviest crunch known to man, while the drums are thunderous and crashing. The mix is perfect, with nobody getting lost. Even amidst all of the mayhem and noise that this record puts forth, all band members are easy to hear and giving their full effort. 

Although four years is a bit long for a new album, it was well worth the wait. “Blood In Blood Out” is by far the most inspired Exodus record since Zetro left the band. It is possible to find flaws with this record, but you’d have to look pretty hard. As someone who loves thrash and can never get enough of it, this album is everything I could want and more. If listening to “Bonded By Blood” at home still sends you into a 1-person mosh pit, “Blood In Blood Out” is going to have you tearing through your whole house!

Be sure to check out and like Exodus on Facebook!

"Black 13"
"Blood In Blood Out"
"Salt The Wound"
"Wrapped In The Arms of Rage"
"Food For The Worms"

Final Rating
4.75/5 or 95%. 

Written by Scott