Archive for the ‘Time to Rediscover’ Category

I have a book of metal. That is my designated notebook of metal tunes that I need to listen to/need to review/enjoyed immensely. I refer to it every so often when I remember bands I need to check out, or to make notes for a future review. Some of my notes seem oddly profound on reflection….:

New Dillinger just melted my brain

Sounds like a shite Hatebreed

Needs more thrash

Where is the riffs!?

Deathcore nonsense

Bone-inducing

That last one was a cultured analysis on the merits of the new Killer Be Killed single, of which the band has just released a video for, ‘Wings of Feather and Wax’. One of the most anthemic cuts this year, it forms the pinnacle of what supergroups can do when they mix up their members’ core strengths.

Bal Sagoth are a band that I stumbled upon just as they released what would prove to be (hopefully only thus far) their final album. ‘The Chthonic Chronicles’ was the closing chapter to a six record concept that baffles the mind. Started with ‘A Black Moon Broods Over Lemuria’, Bal Sagoth took listeners across the Multiverse, through space battles and tales of ancient magic and power. It was the kind of high fantasy concept that I love now, but hadn’t quite fallen for yet in 2006. I appreciated ‘The Chthonic Chronicles’ as a record originally; a heady mix of symphonic black metal with dramatic spoken word segments. But, to truly understand the Multiverse in which it is set, you really need to listen to all six records.

I have done so, but never back to back. It’s something I have wanted to do but have never found the time. Each record has their own additions to the saga, and some concepts or narratives cross albums. Frankly, I’m amazed they didn’t disappear up their own arses with it (well, maybe they did and that’s why they haven’t released anything in so long). Influenced strongly by the tales of Robert E Howard and HP Lovecraft, the Multiverse is the alternative reality where vocalist and lyricist Byron Roberts bases his tales of demigods, disasters, ancient battles and other such things.

You can find a guide to the Bal Sagoth universe here: http://www.bal-sagoth.freeserve.co.uk/glossary.html

An interesting interview with the band on the Metal Hammer website here: http://www.metalhammer.co.uk/news/exclusive-bal-sagoth-discuss-20-years-of-epic-highs-and-lows/ speaks of how the next three Bal Sagoth records have lyrics and cover art already done, so that if the band comes back to life we can expect a new trilogy. If nothing else, you have to appreciate the care and dedication with which the band’s mythos is held together and produced. I admire that a lot. Plus the hexology of the Bal Sagoth saga is made up of strong albums musically, even if they don’t all reach the lofty heights of their seminal ‘Starfire Burning Upon the Ice Veiled Throne of Ultima Thule’. Not only is it their finest work, but it’s probably one of the most metal album names ever.

Please come back to us Bal Sagoth. In these times where such fantasy worlds are becoming more accepted in the mainstream, a band like yourselves would flourish. Imagine, digipack records with comic book style renderings of the songs etc? It’d be a sure fire winner. Well, I’d buy it for sure!

I fucking love Dark Tranquillity. That is a statement I can say now that I’ve ‘rediscovered’ them. In truth, I never really forgot about them, but they slid off my radar totally for the past few years when I was too busy hunting for the next Most Obscure Metal Ever (TM). Recently I saw that they’d had a new album out, and I thought ‘Well they’re an awesome band even though I don’t listen to them much anymore, better get a hold of it’.

‘Construct’ is said album, and man is it good! Dark Tranquillity have taken the path that their Gothenburg sidekicks In Flames SHOULD have taken; high quality melodeath with excellent songwriting. Ok, In Flames have probably made more money, have more fame and have (probably) written more of my favourite songs than DT, but DT have always written better overall albums. Most In Flames records are let down by a poor song or 4, but you will rarely hear a DT track that isn’t excellent. Their albums have always been of a high quality, from the vicious ‘Damage Done’ and glossy ‘Character’ back to the thrashy ‘Projecter’ and the stellar debut ‘Skydancer’. I first heard them in 2002, when I heard ‘Monochromatic Stains’ off ‘Damage Done’. Strange that I wasn’t too enamoured by the song at the time, but I thought they had a cool name and so I stuck with them. I saw them when they toured ‘Character’ in 2005, and ‘Lost in Apathy’ from that record is probably still my favourite DT song. They supported Chimaira on that tour, and they were much better than the headliners in my opinion. Chimaira were still pretty good back then too, so they must’ve been good.

My oldest surviving gig t-shirt is the Dark Tranquillity one I’m wearing right now in fact. You know those gigs you go to and think, well I’ll probably buy some merch but I’ll decide after I see the bands? Well, DT sold me on the first song. They were brilliant. I’ve actually lost the Chimaira shirt from that gig, but I still have the DT one, 9 years later. That’s the sign of a good band I think, one that you hold onto over the years because of the experience they gave you. Pick up ANY of their records to enjoy the best in melodic death metal, my personal recommendation is ‘Character’ but ‘Damage Done’ or ‘Fiction’ are also pretty good.

I like Nightwish. There, I said it. I don’t LOVE Nightwish, but I was a big fan of theirs back when they released ‘Once’, had the video for ‘Nemo’ on Kerrang repeatedly and had operatic sex bomb Tarja Turunen on vocals. I have recently gone back through my CD collection in the advent of 2014 approaching, to find the hidden treasures I have bought in the past and forgotten about. When you own like 1400+, you start to lose some in the madness. Nightwish was one of those artists, so I’m dusting them off to see if they still appeal to my tastes.

I have like, five (FIVE!?) Nightwish records. That, I definitely had forgotten. I thought I only had two, three at a push. I first got into them just after I left high school and went to university. My little hometown had fuck all in the way of decent record stores apart from Barnstorm Records, to which I owe a lot. But Glasgow had a Virgin Megastore (remember those?) and about 3 HMVs, so I was in heaven. I then discovered a love for symphonic metal and power metal, which was fully realised by the fact I could get these kind of records in the shops. It was the birth of my CD collection’s true expanse into what it has become today.

And Nightwish were a firm favourite of mine back in the day. They had some great songs, and a real sense of the grand and epic. Tarja’s voice was so different to anything I had really experienced before, and female-fronted metal bands were reasonably rare at the time. 2004’s ‘Once’ was truly a great album for its era; it contained all the good things about symphonic power metal with female vocals, without falling into the missteps that so many copycats (and the band themselves) fell into afterwards. ‘I Wish I Had An Angel’ was a storming track, and the always catchy ‘Nemo’ are still good tracks, almost 10 years later. Tarja was a bona fide opera singer, so she could do epic SERIOUSLY well. Nightwish could do epic properly too, with the huge ‘Ghost Love Score’ and ‘Creek Mary’s Blood’.

Nightwish lost something for me when Tarja left; both they and Turunen’s solo records failed to leave much of an impression on me (although I still like ‘Amaranth’ and ‘Eva’ from ‘Dark Passion Play’) and they faded from my radar almost completely. They became a band for me that I had good memories of ‘back in the day’, but held nothing for me as I moved towards more brutal and obscure directions in music. But listening back to them now, I can still see why I liked them. I could probably put together a personal greatest hits for people who wanted to hear the best of them. And here it is:

1. Sleeping Sun

2. Nemo

3. Amaranth

4. I Wish I Had An Angel

5. Dark Chest of Wonders

6. End of All Hope

7. Angels Fall First

8. Nymphomaniac Fantasia

9. Ghost Love Score

10. The Poet and The Pendulum

11. Sacrament of Wilderness

And, here’s another reason I, at 18, was smitten by Nightwish. Back when Tarja was stunning. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9hmzR1CKGtA

I have a number of Dio albums. Some of my favourite Black Sabbath songs are from ‘Heaven and Hell’. Dio was/will always be a legend of heavy metal. But DO I actually know that much Dio material outside the classics? Turns out no, no I don’t.

I was inspired to start this new series of blogs (so many fucking series of blogs) after reading some more negative reviews of the new Sabbath record ’13’. Now, as my review testifies, I was a big fan of it. Yeah it’ll never be as good as those first 6 records, but neither will anything else so there’s no point in arguing. What I did grab from alot of those reviews was that a lot of people prefered Heaven and Hell’s ‘The Devil You Know’ record as a ‘true’ representation of what Sabbath is in the modern era. Now, ‘The Devil You Know’ was great, and as fitting an epitaph to the mighty Ronnie James Dio as there could be. But its time to refresh myself on Dio’s solo records. I picked three to go with, ignoring the clearly classic ‘Holy Diver’ and Rainbow’s ‘Rising’, because enough has been said about these. I’m taking one record from the 80s (1987’s ‘Dream Evil’), one from the 90s (1990’s ‘Lock Up the Wolves’) and the 00s (2000’s ‘Magica’), and really immersing myself in Dio’s less famous legacy.

‘Dream Evil’ is a classic 80s metal record. It’s full of Priest-isms, while always maintaining a catchy rock and roll style. ‘Sunset Superman’ is a classic example of this, as is the title track. This is where Dio’s influence on that ‘classic’ heavy metal sound is at its clearest. It is REALLY 80s. Like, Dokken 80s. ‘All The Fools Sailed Away’ is an epic ballad with a bit of crazy synthesizer thrown in. I wasn’t that crazy about that part, but I love the song. It shows Dio’s range as a singer, and its probably one of the finer tracks of his. It’s pretty basic heavy metal, but Dio always did it better than most. Best songs are ‘Dream Evil’, ‘All the Fools Sailed Away’ and ‘Sunset Superman’, although ‘I Could’ve Been a Dreamer’ is also awesome.

‘Lock Up the Wolves’ takes everything that ‘Dream Evil’ did right, and amps it up. Its heavier, with a thicker tone and less histrionics. Maybe its just the newer recording methods, but Dio sounds better here than previous. ‘Holy Diver’ had a lot of 80s charm, but its here Dio begins to move into ‘heavier’ territory. ‘Evil on Queen Street’ has a very doom feeling, its slower and bluesy. Opener ‘Wild One’ is strong, and the standard stays high. ‘Walk on Water’ is just a ripping heavy metal anthem. I think Dio’s voice prevents his material ever being stale, because it is so iconic. He leads you in pumping fists and singing along. Highlights are ‘Walk on Water’, ‘Why Are They Watching Me?’ and ‘Wild One’

Finally, 2000’s ‘Magica’ (inspiring the Romanian power metal band of the same name) is a lot more epic. A concept record that was supposed to be followed by a further 2 records before Dio sadly passed from this world in 2010, it clearly has a lot of power metal elements. Yet again, Dio’s voice is the most powerful part of the record. I’m starting to worry that maybe I’m failing to recognise a lot of differences between his records, having listened to a few in a row now, but I’ve yet to tire of it. Its good old fashioned heavy metal, played with heart. I especially like the Magica Theme, and  ‘Fever Dreams’. There’s something very regal about Ronnie’s voice, like he’s addressing the kingdom rather than just singing a song.

I have a new appreciation for Dio now. I’ve discovered some great music, and can now honestly say now that I truly understand why he is held in such high esteem. Dio made the kind of heavy metal we can always rely on, not needing anything particularly flashy or brutal. Yeah, ‘Holy Diver’ and his work with Tony Iommi may have been his finest moments, but his solo records are truly worth checking out. I’m glad I did, because I now understand what the world of metal is missing. There’ll never be another