Archive for December, 2013

Demo 2013 cover art

This is becoming a bit of a theme, but its leading me to some fantastic music. Following on from my discovery of Blind Spite and Helvellyn this year, I find myself discovering yet another English black metal demo to wrap my ears around. This one I found after I bought the new Caina demo tape through Church of Fuck Records, who then posted on their Facebook a link to their own band demo.

This is another black metal band from the North of England who do black metal, and a particularly atmospheric brand of black metal, extremely well. There’s only two tracks, and opener ‘Inter Ripam et Miseria’ comes creeping and crawling out of the gate, inching forward like a beast of darkness and dread. It’s a great example of how atmosphere can work so well in black metal. A solemn guitar floats out of the murk, melancholy notes maintaining that feeling of dread. It then explodes into a snarling, black metal fury, raging icy riffs cascading over your ears. It’s simple but effective. The other track ‘Onward to Helvellyn’ is another slice of more traditional black metal; the tremolo riffs, the savage shrieking and rattling drums bring to mind ‘Blaze in the Northern Sky’ era Darkthrone, and of course, there’s fuck all wrong with that. A slower mid section is reminiscient of early Satyricon and fellow countrymen Winterfylleth.

All in all this is a pretty good demo, the first track personally I feel is better and if they were to go ahead and record a full album then that approach is more appealing. Either way, there is definitely some promise lurking within these shores for bands like Cold Fell to step up and be recognised as a second wave behind the likes of A Forest of Stars, Winterfylleth and Fen. This demo is available as a digital download for the paltry sum of £1.50 on their bandcamp page.

http://coldfell.bandcamp.com/album/demo-2013

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There’s nothing quite like Black Sabbath live. I need to get that out to start. But rewind back to the start of the evening. This was a day I’d been waiting for for about seven months, when my lovely lady bought me Sabbath tickets for my birthday. I had to wait so long, so fucking long to see the originators, the progenitors of my most beloved music genre. But it turned out to be more than worth the wait. But first, to the support.

Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats were great, their fuzzed out proto-doom are the perfect warm up act for a band like Black Sabbath. Uncle Acid are what Sabbath could have become if they’d stayed stuck in ‘Master of Reality’ mode. Their songs are catchy, but with a malevolent element; something dark and occult lurks behind those melodies that worm their way into your brain.

But now to Sabbath. There’s always a fear when you go to see a favourite band that they won’t be as good as you hope. Especially one like Black Sabbath, whose influence on music is unfathomable, but whose members are all pushing 60. And Ozzy, oh Ozzy, how you are still alive nobody knows but we are all eternally grateful. Ozzy turned 65 just days before the gig, and with his quadbike accident and the years of abusing his body with all kinds of substances, you’ve got to cross your fingers and hope he’s gonna be ok. Luckily, he was better than ok.

Opening with ‘War Pigs’ probably was the best choice. Opening track of their most famous record, and epic slice of heavy metal history, it was a perfect start. The gig then became the hit parade, with ‘Into the Void’, ‘Snowblind’ and ‘Black Sabbath’ thrown into the first half. The new tracks from ’13’, like ‘Age of Reason’ and ‘God is Dead’ fit in perfectly with older material, and tracks like ‘Under the Sun’ and ‘Fairies Wear Boots’ were an unexpected surprise to me. I assumed it’d be the hits, but in fairness both those tracks are awesome. Highlights were the thunderous ‘Iron Man’, with the sold out crowd ‘whoa whoa’-ing along with the iconic main riff, and a grinding ‘Children of the Grave’. Iommi was staggering, Geezer’s bass was note perfect, and Ozzy’s voice was great. Ozzy is forever the showman, running around, jumping up and down and moving a lot more than a man of his age should be. His voice, while not able to hit the higher notes he used to be able to, has gained a darker tone that really cranked up the evilness of tracks like ‘Black Sabbath’. In fact, the eponymous track still, after 43 years, is the most sinister and evil piece of metal ever written.

It was a beautiful thing watching the men who started it all bring their A game 43 years later. Let’s hope ’13’ wasn’t their last record, because the godfathers still have plenty of life left in them. They are lords of this world

Holy shit. The opening riff to the title track of Meshuggah’s staggeringly heavy 2008 album ObZen has got to be one of the heaviest things they’ve ever written. It’s a riff I can NEVER get bored of, and I don’t know how many times I’ve heard it. This is what every djent band is trying to create, and yet no one comes close.

Its about as close as Meshuggah generally come to what could be called a proper headbanger’s riff. The time signature is almost standard, and that great, almost mechanized guitar tone is beefed with some serious bass. It’s a neck wrecker. I saw Meshuggah live in Glasgow and this riff was really the only moment when you didn’t have drunken metalheads headbanging completely out of sync. Well, actually they still were but it was close. Meshuggah have many epic riffs I could sling into this post, but ‘ObZen’ will always be my favourite. Put it on and attempt to keep your spinal column in one piece. Brutal.

Maiden are one of these bands that metalheads can rely on. Like Motorhead and AC/DC, you know what you’re getting with an Iron Maiden album. Although perhaps not this time, as the trademark gallop and catchy choruses are reigned in to a greater extent than previous efforts, and the band have taken time to write some really epic prog metal songs. A natural follow up to its progressive predecessor, ‘A Matter of Life and Death’, ‘The Final Frontier’ challenges all preconceptions of Iron Maiden’s style. The opening title track leads of with about 4 minutes of strange, spaceshipy noises with Bruce Dickinson in the background before it starts proper. It’s a decent opener, not as instantly classic as most Maiden lead-off singles are but then again its better than ‘Wildest Dreams’. ‘El Dorado’ follows with a more traditional Maiden guitar sound, galloping riffs surrounding a memorable chorus and arguably one of the better, ‘accessible’ tracks the band have written in many years. ‘The Alchemist’ is another Maiden galloper, catchy and traditional.

From there, the band veer off into slightly more uncharted territory. Epic prog is now the order of the day, with most tracks over 7 and a half minutes. In fact this is the longest album they’ve ever written, including titanic closer ‘When the Wild Wind Blows’. They all follow a similar pattern with acoustic, soft intros building up into the main songs. Yet, with such talented guitarists, Maiden unplugged is always something special. It’s also incredibly refreshing to see a band, thirty years after their debut and proclaimed rightly as legends, willing to mess with their sound, write albums and songs that they want to, rather than what is expected. Highlights are the less traditional Maiden tracks, such as ‘Starblind’ and ‘Isle of Avalon’, while ‘El Dorado’ is a serious grower. I wasn’t sure of it the first time I heard it, yet it’s now one of my favoured Maiden tracks outside the classics from ‘Edward the Great’.

‘The Final Frontier’ is a staggering achievement. In a day of watered down imitations, bands who are content to release album after album of the same thing and bands who are happy to rest on the laurels of previous achievements, it’s so satisfying to see pioneers of the genre mix things up so successfully. Iron Maiden have written one of the most ambitious works of their career, each listen providing you with new things to notice. The gauntlet is thrown down, and there are no challengers to Maiden’s supremacy as titans of heavy metal.

I was reading an article in the next-to-newest Terrorizer magazine (my handy bible for all things metal-as-fuck) about Paradise Lost and how this was their 25th year of existence. Twenty five years is a very long time in heavy metal, especially for a band who play a style that for years was difficult to market and sell. Not because of the quality, hell no Paradise Lost have been producing excellent albums for a long time (with at least 3 stone cold classics). But gloomy doom metal with hints of gothic and lashings of melancholy? Hardly Top of the fucking Pops material. But they’ve been a band I’ve admired for a long time, seen twice live and listened to for years.

Strangely enough, I didn’t get into them through classic albums like Icon or Draconian Times, but through their more commercial self titled record from 2005. ‘Forever After’ from that record is a great song; catchy as fuck yet very gloomy. I then researched them and found copies of ‘Gothic’ and ‘Icon’ to get to know them better. I saw them support Opeth in 2007 (I think) in the ABC in Glasgow, and I was hooked on that shit. It was only a matter of time before more of their records became part of my collection.

But it was the songs that got me. Yeah, they’re a pretty miserable band (not as miserable as My Dying Bride of course), but they have written some seriously good songs. ‘Draconian Times’ is full of them. The newest record, ‘Tragic Idols’ is a great example of how good song smake a record feel special, not just atmosphere or technical wizardry. Paradise Lost’s influence stretches a lot further than just goth metal bands like Lacuna Coil et al. ‘Lost Paradise’ basically invented death/doom and ‘Gothic’ the same with gothic metal. They are considered as one of British doom’s great godfathers, alongside My Dying Bride and Anathema. They are worth investing time in, both on record and live, because they deliver everytime.

Records to buy: Gothic, Lost Paradise, Draconian Times, Icon, Tragic Idols

I meant to write this yesterday, as an anniversary tribute but I got caught up at work. It was 12 years since the death of one of extreme music’s most influential artists. Chuck Schuldiner was an icon in first death metal and then progressive death metal, and his influence lives far beyond his passing.

I first got into Death with ‘Human’, an album that still stands as my favourite record from Chuck, although ‘Scream Bloody Gore’ and his other project Control Denied’s ‘The Fragile Art of Existence’ push it damn close. ‘Human’, like many of Death’s later releases, was an intelligent death metal album, not just an all out gore soaked brutality fest. It was progressive, inventive, but didn’t lack any of the characteristic heft and crush of a death metal record. Chuck Schuldiner, along with Cynic and Atheist, helped to invent progressive death metal, to take death metal out to new pastures. Of course, Death’s classic debut ‘Scream Bloody Gore’ is a peak in the early scene; a filthy, vicious metal album full of iconic songs like ‘Evil Dead’, ‘Zombie Ritual’ and the title track. It’s probably one of my top 20 pure death metal records of all time, along side other legends of the same time period like Obituary, Deicide and Morbid Angel. Death personified the Florida death metal scene with an output of pure quality, release after release.

But it was truly as Death became a progressive death metal beast that his guitar work began to shine through. It began with ‘Spiritual Healing’ arguably, and through ‘Human’, ‘Symbolic’ until ‘The Sound of Perserverance’ which you can argue is more progressive than most records of its time. But for me, ‘Human’ is the pinnacle of Death’s work. It contains two of my favourite Death tracks, ‘Lack of Comprehension’ and ‘Suicide Machine’.

I wish Chuck was still here, because not only could Death have possibly continued, but we would have had the chance to experience more records like ‘The Fragile Art of Existence’, Chuck’s final work on this earth. A progressive masterpiece, it found its creator pulling out some of his best work and letting us know that his potential as a prog musician was unlimited. Sadly, brain stem cancer took him only 2 years later, but thankfully we can rejoice that there are plenty of young bands taking his lead and creating excellent music for us to enjoy. Death truly is forever.