Posts Tagged ‘Nuclear Blast’

Paradise Lost - Obsidian

First published here: https://www.thesleepingshaman.com/album-ep-reviews/paradise-lost-obsidian/

Where do you even begin with a band as legendary as Paradise Lost? Pioneers of death/doom and gothic doom, creators of some of metal’s most iconic records and songs, and have maintained a career of 30 years plus with barely any creative missteps. You’d think that the band may have began to wane creatively at this point, but their last two records, ‘The Plague Within’ and 2017’s superlative ‘Medusa’ proved that is not the case. So comes ‘Obsidian’, the latest opus in a discography littered with classics, but will it continue this trend? ‘Obsidian’ is out now on Nuclear Blast.

It is a funny thing to review a record by a band so influential, because every time you hear a certain tone or style you have to remember that this doesn’t just sound like Paradise Lost, it IS them. It’s a revelation at that point just how important they’ve been. The bleak acoustic and softly sung opening to ‘Darker Thoughts’ paints a scene of classic Yorkshire misery, and when the song opens up there is a wonderful gloom coating this melodic powerhouse. Paradise Lost have never been a band to shy away from using different styles to create their particular brand of haunting heaviness, with ‘Fall from Grace’ wringing mournful lead guitar over a refrain of ‘we’re all alone…’ and the driving ‘Ghosts’ reaffirming their gothic metal credentials, bringing to mind Sisters of Mercy or even a little Type O.

Their most goth moment comes in the bleak ‘Forsaken’ however, as hook filled as a song this cold and miserable could possibly be. The solo is a high point in an album full of them, and the album never loses steam from here. The serrated riffs of ‘Serenity’ draw back the doom which then filters through the violins and grandiosity of ‘Ending Days’ and the rich post punk tapestry of ‘Hope Dies Young’ into the war torn regality of ‘Ravenghast’, a baroque doom masterclass that conjures some traditional Northern pessimism as well as some of the best riffs Gregor Mackintosh has ever pulled from his six strings.

It feels very reassuring to hear a band fully absorbed by their past but creating new music that is as vital as their iconic releases ever were. Sure, there are hundreds of bans that do what Paradise Lost do, but none will ever come close to the masters. ‘Obsidian’ is an important addition to their legacy; a reinvigoration of their gothic roots while remaining fully rooted in the doom that brought them to the dance. Dark and beautiful.

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Children of Bodom have always been one of my gateway bands into extremity. First coming across them on their superlative ‘Hate Crew Deathroll’ record, their mixture of melodic death metal and air guitar heroics drew me in at a tender age. While later Bodom records haven’t always hit the spot as well as their early works, ‘I Worship Chaos’ looks to be a step back to regaining their place atop the pile.

‘I Hurt’ is a typical Bodom opener, all killer riffs and uber catchy melodies. Less immediate, but all the better for it is the jagged ‘My Bodom’ which matches a chugging riff with pinch harmonics and a sense of grandeur ala ‘Angels Don’t Kill’. ‘I Worship Chaos’ has a less overt keyboard influence through it, and the songwriting feels tighter and more focused. CoB seem to have moved back towards the death metal end from the almost rock and roll thrust of previous records. Alexi Laiho is an instanteously recognisable rock god in all his soloing glory, but the band are best when creating sublime melodic death metal albums.

‘Morrigan’ is a great song, with almost touches of folky melancholy in the early riffing. ‘Horns’ is a more thrashier number, while the gloomy ‘Prayer for the Afflicted’ shows that CoB are more than capable of writing different styles of songs and excelling in each style. We all know what classic Bodom sounds like, and while ‘I Worship Chaos’ is PRIME Bodom, the band are writing songs that show a great maturity. Laiho and cohorts could write the same song over and over in their sleep, but with ‘I Worship Chaos’, they’re showing that they aren’t willing to rest on their laurels.

From the anthemic rage of the title track through to closer ‘Widdershins’, ‘I Worship Chaos’ sees Children of Bodom come closer to realising a modern equivalent of their classic period. A great record, full of memorable songs, killer riffs and jaw dropping fretwork, ‘I Worship Chaos’ stands tall with anything that riffs hard this year.

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Symphony X used to be, for me, a bit of a Dream Theater wannabe band. I saw them support Dream Theater years ago in Glasgow, and I wasn’t overwhelmed by them. Not that there was anything particularly wrong per se, it just seemed like they were Dream Theater lite. On reflection, and on the back of excellent new record ‘Underworld’, I may have been a bit harsh…

‘Underworld’ is a vastly more focused prog metal record than anything Dream Theater has made in years, and it renders Symphony X a much more palatable offering straight away. From the grandeur of ‘Overture’ to the stomping ‘Nevermore’, ‘Underworld’ starts strongly and doesn’t dip over the following hour. ‘Nevermore’ is a great example of what the band do best; anthemic heavy metal with some serious musical chops underneath. It is progressive, but it doesn’t meander. It takes you into this incredible zone of soaring vocal melodies and galloping riffs that tick every box for me. ‘Underworld’ feels natural; nothing is said with more notes than required.

The highlights of this record by far are the stunning lead guitar work of Michael Romeo and the powerful vocals of Russell Allen. The former can switch between thrashing riffs, tapping solos or uber fluid melodic leads without breaking a sweat, and the latter’s voice accentuates the heavier and softer parts of each song. The almost balladry of ‘Without You’ is a good example of both, while the raging ‘Kiss of Fire’ is a true belter. ‘Underworld’ is going to be the album that makes me re-examine older Symphony X records, as it’s a seamless blend of prog, power metal and unabashed thrash in places and I don’t understand why my old self didn’t love this.

It’s difficult to imagine an album coming out this year that challenges ‘Underworld’ for sheer traditional metal power. Yeah they’ve got one of metal’s finest guitarists, and I’m sure the guitar tabs would cause many a music fan to have palpitations, but few bands can create that elusive vibe that essential, electrifying heavy metal has. ‘Underworld’ has it in spades. Be it in the spiralling progressive epic of ‘To Hell and Back’, or the Middle Eastern flourishes of ‘Charon’, Symphony X have crafted one of prog metal’s finest hours. I’m not ashamed to admit it, I love this fucking record, and you should too!

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Helloween are responsible for some of power metal’s most essential releases, particularly the stunning ‘Keeper of the Seven Keys’ albums. They’ve had some creative missteps in the past, and have lost two of the most important figures in power metal from their lineups, but they have a stable lineup now and their new record, ‘My God-Given Right’ is the seventeenth.

‘Heroes’ is classic 80s heavy metal riffs, with a catchy chorus that worms its way into your mind, and won’t quite leave. ‘Battle’s Won’ is speedy and melodic, with some cool soloing and an epic finale. When Helloween kick on all gears, they are still more than capable of writing some top notch, catchy heavy metal tunes with a reigned in grandeur. Sure you’ve heard a lot of it before, but you have to remember that Helloween INVENTED most of these tricks in the first place! Andi Deris hits all the right notes, and his voice compliments the music well, never overdoing the vocal histrionics.

My problem with the record is that I feel like the band are playing it safe and solid, rather than trying to squeeze something a little bit different out. Be that progressive elements that we’ve seen in the past, or even some heavier moments (the heaviest riffs don’t really kick in until ‘Claws’, which is way too late), something a bit different from their blend of high energy hard rock/heavy metal combination. I think trimming the fat of a few songs might have helped too, since an hour plus is a little bit much Helloween for me.

But for its faults, ‘My God-Given Right’ is still a pretty fun, high energy heavy metal album that will scratch any itch you need for big choruses, infectious melodies and classic riffs. Helloween are still more than capable of writing great metal tunes, (see the title track and the closing ‘You, Still of War’) but ‘My God-Given Right’ may not be their finest hour.

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Arrival

When this young Icelandic band arrived on the classic doom rock scene last year with their high quality debut, ‘Voyage’, I had quiet hopes they’d do well. Signed to Nuclear Blast, and with their new record ‘Arrival’ out now, let’s see if the hype has been worth it.

First of all, that album art is great, if not quite as epic as ‘Voyage’. It truly fits the psychedelic rock trip that the Vintage Caravan take you on. Part rock and roll, part spiralling prog odyssey, all riffs. The groove of ‘Monolith’ or the explorative ‘Eclipsed’ showcase either side of the Caravan’s nature. You can’t help but feel their infectious, bluesy riffs right down to your core. The Kyuss-like melodies that are integral to the catchy ‘Shaken Beliefs’ are simply stunning, and help to show just how far The Vintage Caravan has come since last year.

That’s also not to say that they can’t lay down a heavy riff or two when they want, (feel the earth quake when ‘Crazy Horses’ kicks in) but The Vintage Caravan are not quite as doom as I remember, they’ve definitely moved toward more stoner, psychedelic rock with a deep, Clutch-esque influence to it. There’s a lot of bands doing this kind of music at the moment, but few manage to play with this purity of spirit, with this kind of enthusiasm and quality. The emotional balladry of ‘Innerverse’ and the almost nine minute masterpiece ‘Winter Queen’ serve the world notice that The Vintage Caravan do psychedelic stoner doom rock better than you or anyone else.

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Nile - What Should Not Be Unearthed

Now, to be honest, I’m a massive mark for everything Nile have ever put out, so there may be a little bit of bias in this review, but hell, when have Nile ever not backed up all the superlatives thrown in their direction? They became a flagbearer for death metal when it was a dying genre, birthing several instant classics along the way and bringing the ancient power of Egypt to the masses. Their eighth full length, ‘What Should Not Be Unearthed’, has some mighty big shoes to fill…

‘Call to Destruction’ is that first hurricane of technical death metal chaos, with that familiar machine gun double kick and dazzling fretwork. Dallas Toller Wade’s guttural death growls are still brutal in every way, and they’ve always enhanced the primal darkness of Nile’s work. ‘Negating the Abominable Coils of Apep’ thrashes and writhes with bruising death metal riffing, while that iconic Nile bend riff gets me every time. Their songs ooze with an ancient heaviness, like the looming weight of the pyramids. ‘What Should Not Be Unearthed’ feels a lot faster and a lot more frantic than previous efforts to begin with, and you have to wait until the grinding title track for that crushing slow riff that Sanders wields so well.

The Middle Eastern instrumentation also appears to be scaled back a bit for this release, but their scarcity only makes them more effective when they do rear their heads. Eastern flourishes grace the latter periods of the title track, when the voices of the underworld growl from the depths of the Duat. ‘Ushabti Reanimator’ is the only instrumental that encapsulates the more ethnic parts of Nile’s music, and it feels uncomfortable, urgent almost to get back to the metal. ‘Evil to Cast Out Evil’ has a crisp, Hate Eternal feel to it, while the swaying brutality of ‘Age of Famine’ groans under its own mass.

‘Annihilation of the Wicked’ is ten years old this year, and was the first death metal album I really got into. It still stands up as Nile’s finest hour for me, and ‘What Should Not Be Unearthed’ comes closest of all their albums since to equalling that majesty. Be it the coupling of eastern melody and brutality that enhances ‘In the Name of Amun’, the spiralling riff-ageddon of ‘Rape of the Black Earth’, or the crushing close of ‘To Walk Forth from the Flames Unscathed’, Karl Sanders and crew have done it again. ‘What Should Not Be Unearthed’ is another scorcher from these death metal legends, and is easily the death metal record of my year so far.

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Complete with trippy cover art, which fucks with my eyes every time I see it, the new Orchid EP continues their shameless worship of 70s Sabbath with another four tracks of grooving bluesy doom that will raise a knowing smile and start your head a-nodding.

‘Helicopters’ is a catchy little earworm that rides along on a propulsive bassline, Theo Mindell’s soulful croon accentuating each little nuance of riff. The solo is pure psychedelica, and you’ll be singing the refrain over and over. ‘John the Tiger’ is a bouncy number that indulges a progressive side and showcases their effortless grasp of how 70s doom sounded. Orchid are the other dimensional Sabbath, where the progenitors continued to make music like it was 1972 every day.

The title track is probably the finest piece of music Orchid has committed to record; at its heart a classic doom song that is oozing with psychedelic notions and a pulsing sense of righteousness. Sometimes, a band just FEELS good to listen to, and on ‘Sign of the Witch’, Orchid become that band. It is a glorious slice of retro doom, and is followed by the smoky, tripped out ‘Strange Winds’ which feels very ‘Planet Caravan’ as it unfurls from the speakers like a desert sunrise.

‘Sign of the Witch’ confirms to me that Orchid deserve their plaudits for their output thus far. Any band who can write a song that is so pure in its Sabbathian essence are alright with me, and ‘Sign of the Witch’ is that track. Turn on, turn up and embrace the simple heart of doom that Orchid has become.

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Unleashed - Dawn of the Nine

What more needs to be said about Unleashed? One of the founding bands of Swedish death metal, with a glut of high quality death metal albums under their belt and at least two stone cold classics, Unleashed’s legacy is safe in this world of metal. A reliable, hard working band who have never failed to raise a smile to my face or a fist to the sky when a new record comes out. Well, 2015 sees the release of ‘Dawn of the Nine’, the band’s twelfth full length, on Nuclear Blast, and what a ride upon Viking death metal riffs it is!

While Amon Amarth may have popularised Viking metal in modern music, Unleashed have been doing it and doing it brilliantly for years. Opener ‘A New Day Will Rise’ is a propulsive slab of anthemic death metal, capturing the essence of the band’s legacy straight away. ‘They Came to Die’ is possessed of a classic Swedeath riff, Johnny Hedlund’s now iconic roar accentuating each riff. ‘Defenders of Midgard’ is more midpaced, a heavy chug building to an acoustic conclusion, whose tranquility is instantly ripped apart by the roaring velocity of ‘Where is Your God Now?’ I guess its an unfortunate coincidence that Amon Amarth’s ‘Twilight of the Thunder God’ record has a song with almost the exact same title also as track four…

‘The Bolt Thrower’ opens with, almost by design, one of those steamrolling death riffs that is instantly reminiscient of the British world eaters. It’s a stunning track, and its probably my favourite on the record, although the crushing ‘Where Churches Once Burned’ is close. When you listen to Unleashed’s visceral and thrilling death metal, you start to realise the vast influence they’ve had on such bands. Amon Amarth inject more melody into their riffs perhaps, but Unleashed have perfected the concept of Viking themed death metal.

‘Dawn of the Nine’ is another great addition to a back catalogue of riffs and songs that become more impressive with each passing year. When a lot of vintage death metal bands struggle to live up to their legacy, Unleashed have slowly and steadily honed their craft and have since become one of death metal’s most reliable purveyors. Raise the Hammer and bang thy head.

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Kataklysm - Of Ghosts and Gods

What more needs to be said about these Canadian masters of the death metal riff? After 24 years and 12 albums of rampaging death metal, if you don’t know the kings of ‘Northern Hyperblast’, then you’ve not been paying enough attention. ‘Of Ghosts and Gods’ is their new effort, out now on Nuclear Blast.

Opening galloper ‘Breaching the Asylum’ is a white-hot riff monster with some huge melodies in the chorus. A chugging beast of a track, it showcases the slightly more melodic path the band had trod over the recent few albums. Not that they are going soft in their old age, not if the devastating ‘The Black Sheep’ has anything to say about it, but they have definitely understood the benefits of including more melody into their songwriting. ‘Of Ghosts and Gods’ is one of the more mature death metal records I’ve heard this year.

‘Marching Through Graveyards’ is heavy as fuck and pure mosh pit material. Kataklysm may have injected more melody but they’ll still destroy a pit at ten feet. The uber catchy cruise missile of ‘Soul Destroyer’ is a propulsive, rampant slab of almost melodic death metal, but stays just on the brutal side with a monstrous chug. Kataklysm are everything that is needed in modern death metal; accessible brutality with plenty of headbanging moments. The almost anthemic ‘Carrying Crosses’ is a perfect example of why Kataklysm are essential. Superb guitar harmonies mesh with a bombardment of double kicks, guttural but understandable roars and flesh searing riffs.

‘Of Ghosts and Gods’ is another notch in Kataklysm’s tree of perfect death. They’ve perfected their craft over two decades of destruction, and while it doesn’t match the sheer violence of their early work, ‘Of Ghosts and Gods’ is easily their maturest and most well rounded record yet. Turn on, turn up and prepare to get hyperblasted!

 

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Korpiklaani - Noita

Korpiklaani are one of those bands who you can always rely on to write a good, FUN metal album usually based around skipping around forests blazing drunk. Or so the stereotype goes. They are what people who hate ‘folk metal’ point at as an example of what is wrong with the genre, but for me Korpiklaani have always been a riot. Sure, their record output has suffered somewhat in parts due to their prolific nature, but their last three records have been hits for me and I’m a big fan. So it is with anticipation I welcome ‘Noita’ onto my stereo.

‘Noita’ is, on first impressions, a little more sombre and a bit more sober for want of a better term. The album art, for a start, is a bit more moody and darker than previous records, and while there are still plenty of upbeat, happy singalongs, the overall feeling is one of introspection in parts. Opener ‘Viinamäen Mies’ is traditional Korpiklaani fare, with a bouncy rhythm and Jonne’s rasping, hoiky vocals. All the band’s trademarks are there, the accordion, the Finnish lyrics, the fiddles. The galloping ‘Pilli On Pajusta Tehty’ is next, followed by the grander and more melancholic ‘Lempo’. ‘Lempo’ is a fine example of how Korpiklaani mix up their sound, rather than sticking straight to their ‘formulaic’ folk metal anthems and it’s a highlight of the record for me.

‘Sahti’ will be an instant live favourite, with its pogo inducing main melody and shoutalong moments. It’s the closest you’ll come to a ‘single’ track here, although the barreling ‘Luontoni’ pushes it with its heavy metal heart beating hard. ‘Minä Näin Vedessä Neidon’ is a folk ballad to be proud of, led by mournful violin and a softening of Jonne’s rasp. The bonkers ‘Jouni Jouni’ shakes it up again, being a Finnish language cover of Tommy James and the Shondells’ ‘Mony Mony’. Which I don’t know at all, but it’s a total party tune.

I like to think of a Korpiklaani album as like a night round a campfire drinking. The faster party tunes like ‘Sahti’ or ‘Viinamaen Mies’ are for earlier on, whereas the more moody ‘Ämmänhauta’ is for later on, when the fire dies to embers and everyone has hit that sleepy drunk stage. As for ‘Noita’, it stands up against the best work Korpiklaani has done in the past and surpasses it, with a more mature songwriting style while not losing that FUN that made us all fall in love the first time.