It’s Sabaton. You hear one album, you’ve basically heard them all.
It’s Sabaton. You hear one album, you’ve basically heard them all.
Well… huh. Since when is the obligatory overrated power metal album in the RYM [current year] metal top 40 actually good? I mean sure, this has very little replayability, and after the initial “hey this is actually pretty dang good”shock wears off, it leaves something to be desired, but considering all of those obvious faults, this rules.
Almanac debuts with a power metal rock opera with a very apparent progressive tinge, chronicling the reign of Russian Tsar, Ivan the Terrible. Of course, I can say that, but despite those facts, when it comes down it, this is chug power. Quite good chug power, but chug power nonetheless. Normally that instantly caps your max rating at around the 6 level on my scale, but I feel like Almanac manages to avoid this pitfall through pulling some shenanigans in how they do the chugging deed. Actually it’s not really shenanigans at all, they just use chugging as a form to setup tension and build backing for the fantastic vocals, as well as using the heavy guitars for chug-riffs rather than just mindless repetitive chords. I just really wanted to use the word shenanigans there. Fun word, needs more use outside of conversations between high school musical theater students.
Speaking of which, the theatrical aspects of this album are actually presented in quite a professional manner. I mean yeah, there’s the obvious amount of “cheese” you’re going get with power metal, but I put that in quotes here because nothing about this is actually over the top. Sure, it’s going to sound a tad goofy, as does any power metal album, but aside from sometimes slightly overly theatrical aspects of this record, I see this as quite a professionally done piece of music. The production in particular is top notch clean work, which makes me take this as seriously as I’ll ever take a power metal album. There’s a feel of genuine want to create a story that’s not just muh dragons and DnD, and I think that’s necessary for a good power metal album. As much as I like cheese, if it doesn’t feel like the band is trying to create something that’s not just goofy, it makes me feel like the band is almost mocking their genre rather than trying to embrace it, which doesn’t make them too rad of dudes in my book. Then again I like Gloryhammer, so what do I know?
The main part of Tsar that I enjoy the most is actually the guitar work. The internet has told me that Victor Smolski is a legendary guitarist, so I’ll believe them in an effort to look learned, and he displays what the lord our god Internet has told me. The single on this album, Self-Blinded Eyes, proves this fact, which as well as featuring a fantastic solo towards the end of the track, also features a bit of a riff cereal. It’s sort of like Lucky Charms, with all of the marshmallows being different colors and include all of that tasty processed sugar flavor that my 8 year old self loved. Each riff brings a bit of breakfast time memories to me, as I go off to school, ready to be picked on endlessly because my mom wouldn’t buy me Lunchables. That’s kind of a contrived analogy, but fuck it, I really like breakfast anyway, that’s good enough. Unsurprisingly, this is the best track on the album, and brings forth the driving rhythms that the appropriate use of chugging can do to a track.
However, I have to go back to what I said in the first paragraph: this is chug power, and after the initial pleasant surprise factor, the albums positive attributes wears thinner and thinner. This is a good album, definitely one of the better power metal records I’ve heard this year. But it’s the tolken overrated RYM power metal album of the month for a reason, even if it tries its best to break that stereotype.
I think it’s time for people to step back and realize that maybe we should just stop with the whole concept album thing in metal. And that has about as much to do with the genre of metal itself as it does the people making them. First off, the people who actually want to make a concept album (usually power, heavy, progressive, thrash metal dudes) can’t ever actually make them, part of which is because power, heavy, and thrash metal are so limited in scope instrumentally, so you have to rely on either skits or vocals to tell the story (which lets be real, metal bands are exactly geniuses are writing lyrics), and progressive metal is just a trash genre right now. The other part is because the people who play in those bands are usually not “artistic” so to speak, which you kind of need to be to create a true concept album. I don’t think something like Program Music I would be possible in a metal album without adding lots of other subgenres to the tag list. Second of all, concept albums in general are overrated as hell. I don’t need the music itself to tell me it’s telling a story, the music IS the story. One of the great things about non programmatic music is how its meaning is totally up to the interpretation of the listener. I typically listen to a metal album and just enjoy the music for what it is, rather than the story it has to tell. Often times I don’t care about any story or even want one, I just want to listen rad jams. This album is exactly what you think it would be; it does a few things to fractionally grab your attention, but largely falls flat at any grand theme, and for the most part blissfully wanders into chugland. It’s not terrible to listen to, but it’s not really worth the entire 47 minutes of your time. True, the lyrics being in finnish do make it harder for a filthy american to understand the whole concept, but based on what I heard, I don’t think I’m missing much.
The second ever batch of shortstacks has a bit of a drop at the top in terms of quality, but the same overall value across all the ratings. Yesterday we had one album crack the recommended tag, if just barely, in Eissturm’s The Oak, while the remaining two meddled in the average to bad category. Today we have two albums who have merit, but don’t quite reach that level, and two that are just… really bad. One of which being the second worst album I’ve rated this year. I guess that’s quality in itself, isn’t it? I mean, why else read the shitty rated albums if you don’t simply want to feel better about your own failed musical endeavors? Well don’t worry, we have that for you today. Without further adieu, here are today’s 4 horsemen of the mediocrepocalypse.
Witch’s Heart – The Crvshing Waves of Silence Wash Over My Wretched Soul
Well this certainly is spooky. I’m not sure how good it is, but it’s a hard listen. Witch’s Hearts create a really unique sound of combining droning sludge guitar tones with heavy and dark industrial synths and noises. It utilizes these disfigured blackened “vocals” (???) along with blast beats to create a terrifying musical sight to behold. At first it’s really a cool experience, opening up with these angelic choirs combining with darkness the rest of the influences hold. Unfortunately, the album gets old pretty damn fast. I love dark industrial stuff, but I can only take so much of one droning overall sound per track. There just isn’t the variety here to keep me interested. There’s potential for good stuff, these guys just need to figure it out.
Nova Serpens – Oculto en las sombras
Not bad. Generic, but not bad. Once the novelty of “Mexican power metal band that sings in spanish” wears off, there isn’t really much substance here worth mentioning. Standard stuff that’s done pretty well for what it is, but doesn’t break any mold in terms of the larger scale. I will say that the vocals are actually quite good, having a bit deeper range than most other power metal bands while still maintaining quality. That said, everything else here is something that’s been done before, and been done better.
Avitas – Pioneers
Complete mess of an album with equally messy song titles and production job. Everything sounds chaotic in all the wrong ways, like the band just doesn’t know how to write a song. When it isn’t just a mess, it’s just one riff over and over again over some incredibly insipid lyrics (which are mostly bigoted, but there’s reasons beyond that why they’re bad). It’s a real shame it isn’t anywhere near as good as the cover art, because I was pretty excited to listen to this based just on that. Awful album that is to be avoided.
Panoptitron – Swansong
Imagine Dream Theater, if they never got a record deal. If they never even left their garage. Having been disappointed in not getting attention, they go for a lofi-black metal aesthetic while still being a prog band. So what you get is some of the worst quality production jobs you’ll hear in a non black or death metal record, coupled with copious amounts of awful quality midis and drum machines, resulting in climaxes that have the extremely mediocre vocalist singing his guts out while nothing but midi horns and empty synth drums back him up. Swansong gives approximately the same feeling as watching a severely autistic child try to play the recorder. You feel a mixture of audible pain, immense sadness, trying empathy, and just a tiny but of happiness because you know that despite their poor results, they’re trying their best. This record is why you give your friends constructive criticism rather than just blindly praising their work. Because otherwise they never realize how shitty what they’re doing is, and go on to make albums like this, which is actually part 4 in a series of concept albums. So please, criticize your friends. It can save a life.
What a sorry excuse for an album. Beyond the insipid lyrical content, which I can excuse somewhat for a power metal album, the songwriting and solo work are beyond the acceptable levels of mediocre. The solos are either glorified scale practice, or generic, nonsensical “shredding” (if you can even call it that). The main musical content itself is actually not a mix of power metal and heavy metal, more an either or. Each song is either an extremely uninspired butt metal piece, which abuse of rhythm guitar and chugging instead of any actual song material, or an actually pretty ok, but generic power metal track. Their split about 50/50 throughout the album, so the most excitement you’ll get out of this album is gambling on whether or not you’re going to feel unclean listening to the next track or not.
Riffs? What riffs? Oh you mean those basic bitch melodies that Primal Fear is calling riffs? Yeah those are here, what about them? Honestly, Primal Fear is probably too old to give a shit, they’re making money off this, why bother making any effort? There’s no other explanation to the tracks We Walk Without Fear and In Metal We Trust. We Walk is essentially a Powerslave era Iron Maiden wannabe, without any of the talent that made Iron Maiden good. It seemed like the track just started, then I look back at the song timer and I’m 8 minutes of 11 into the track, and nothing fucking happened. In Metal We Trust is just a travesty. Beyond the fact that no band makes a metal tribute song like that without being a massively washed up heavy metal band, the lyrics themselves are so damn insincere and obviously pandering to their fans it’s disgusting. I don’t think I would believe any band takes metal to heart if their song proclaiming so featured one repeated riff the entire song.
Rulebreaker is lazy, stupid, and a waste of space, made as a cash grab by a dying band who desperately wants to be relevant. Well, not entirely. If they were desperate they would actually put effort into things. Primal Fear just doesn’t give enough of a shit for something like that.
On initial reaction, it would seem like Anthrax managed to do the impossible and make a good album. In other news, hell froze over, North Korea remained their country “Happy Hugs and Chocolates Land”, and Chris-chan gained some self-awareness. And it’s really done by doing what they promised not to do in this album, by abandoning their thrash metal roots. Sure, it has elements of that in here, but for the most part, the album is full of heavy metal epics.
The music is mature, varied, and actually interesting to listen to. Breathing Lightning gave me CHILLS listening to it. Anthrax did that! Breathing is an uplifting, soaring, real POWER metal ballad. Not in the “lets sing merrily about Vikings and DnD” power metal, but in the way that it has power to give you positive energy and will. It’s an inspiring track and easily the best on the album, and the previous three aren’t slouches, being of similar inspiration levels.
And then track five hits and the album just… falls apart. Maybe that’s a little harsh, the rest of For All Kings isn’t bad. But it’s much more like their previous album, which was to be blunt, and steaming pile of concentrated misery, with some shit thrown in for flavor. They certainly upgraded their sound to a bit above tolerable, but nothing exceeds the level of “this isn’t that bad”. It was as if Anthrax spent months working on the first four tracks, and then realized “shit, we need to finish this album fast” and cashed it in for the next 30 minutes.
Disappointment does not even begin to describe my feelings towards this. I was actually a bit hyped to be that one guy who gave Anthrax a 9/10. It would’ve been cool for a band often forgotten, despite how well known they are, who others constantly dismiss even amongst their success, revitalize to create their strongest album almost 40 years after first started up. Of course, seeing as how they decided that quality really isn’t important enough to make an entire album of it, this was not meant to be. So once again, despite Anthrax showing that they are indeed capable of good music, Anthrax ironically “mails” it in, giving some hope, but nothing more than enough to hype up the “next time” for their next album.
This albums just all over the place. One minute it’s going fast and thrash, with some punkish lyrics and riffs. The next it’s got a spacey atmosphere that seems more like a wall of trippy noise than anything else. It’s like blackened crust punk on schizophrenia and shrooms. Ideas zoom and dash all over the place, rarely a break in between. One moment you have a melancholy, prog-induced chill coma, then the next you have a piano track that sounds like it came out of an avant-garde clown’s wet dream. The entire atmosphere of this album is one of confusion, which would be fine, but I don’t think that’s what it was meant to be. I can’t tell if I’m supposed to feel happy or angry when I’m listening to this. Heck maybe I’m supposed to feel both. But the result is I feel neither. There’s lots of snippets of great ideas that go nowhere, and intelligent passages that feel empty. Deeper than Sky is like watching Jim Carey playing a serious role. It tries to convey a dark sense of dread and important, but you can’t help but ponder whether to laugh at it’s attempt, or cry that it tried in the first place.
Liturgy take notes. THIS is how you do triumphant black metal. Because it’s not just the chords you play, it’s how you play them. Sure, Havukruunu is not the first band ever to utilize major chords in black metal. And they’re certainly not the first pagan black metal band to make an album that feels like an epic journey. But they are one of the few to do both of these things right, in my eyes (or rather, ears). Instead of simply using orchestral synths, or vocals that sound more like norse chants to create the whole “epic viking” scene, they use what would be considered epic in the traditional metal sense. Solos. Heavy fucking metal solos. It took me way off guard, but god damn does it work. I debated with myself as to whether the fuzzy, atmo black atmosphere actually works well with the clean, guitar shredding runs. I don’t think there is a true yes or no answer to that, but I do know that it doesn’t not work, which is good enough for what this album is.
While I do again get that sense of epic adventure when listening to this, overall I do feel that as a whole the atmosphere is a tad underwhelming. Maybe this goes back to whether or not the fuzzy production works with the clean solos. The epic guitar shreds create a large atmosphere, while the distorted tremolos as a backdrop create something more small and homily. I like to imagine that the bands who create metal albums are not actually humans, but rather creatures from different realms. I see heavy metal bands as like gods from a realm of adventure and danger, having bodies like that of greek gods, wearing denim jackets, singing about their exploits. Atmospheric Black Metal bands are actually from earth, though they are misanthropic, ugly creatures who dwell in caves and dark forests. Power metal of course comes from a land where everything is made entirely of cheese, though that’s for another album review. Anyway, seeing these two images coincide with each other is rather striking, maybe for me more than another. It creates a bit of confusion as to whether I really love this, or just like this. I think for now I’ll go somewhere inbetween. Havulinna is a unique record that does a lot of things that many fail at right, though in a way of which I probably can’t fully appreciate.
Often regarded as a cult favorite, Satan is a relatively obscure heavy metal band that arose out of the NWOBHM period that never quite caught up steam with the general populace at the time (as well as being the answer to the question “is there a metal band that’s literally just named Satan”). While their most famous album Court in the Act has recently gotten more fame as the news of it’s greatness spread throughout the internet, they have still remained relatively unknown compared to many other Heavy Metal giants of the time. It doesn’t help that they don’t exactly have a consistent release schedule, the gap between their 3rd and fourth album being 15 years. However what they lack in consistent timing, they make up for in consistent quality. Satan has produced great album after great album, and Atom by Atom by just be the best of them all.
I’m going to start this off by making one of the strangest comparisons I think you make make between metal albums. Atom by Atom reminds me a lot of the Animals as Leaders debut. I know, that sounds insane, but bear with mere here. One of the things that makes the Animals as Leaders debut one of my favorite albums of all time is it’s evolution and progression of a theme throughout a track. It’ll take one idea and through logic and natural progression, evolve the track into a final product. Sometimes you end up right back where you started, other times you end up in an entirely different place. Most tracks on Atom employ the former, however you have examples of the latter, such as on the track In Contempt, which ends in an entirely different key as it began. But again, most of the songs on this album go full circle. They take a theme, and then explore that theme, while occasionally repeating it at appropriate times. To use In Contempt as an example again, there is a staccato arpeggio to begin the track, working as a bit of a warm-up for the main meat of the piece. The track goes on and right before the conclusion you hear that same apreggio, bringing the track to a fitting conclusion full circle, until as I mentioned before, it just says fuck you and ends in an entirely different realm (not a bad thing I’ll say). However what’s magic about all of this is that this repetition of a theme doesn’t feel tacked on or forced. It doesn’t sound like they drew 60% of a circle, and then drew a diagonal line to enclose it and call it complete. It feels like it just naturally evolves out of what came previously. As if that same theme just happened to be appropriate for that moment, just as it was at the beginning of the song. Of course, in comparing these two albums, it’s pretty obvious that Satan does this with about 1/4th of the notes as Animals as Leaders, but the general principal is still there. Every track has a beginning, and every track has a conclusion, with everything in between connecting the two.
Speaking of circles and conclusions, my absolute favorite track on the album has to be the last track, The Fall of Persephone. It feels funnily enough, like it’s the logical conclusion to the album. While unlike the individual tracks being a circle, as the album as a whole feels more like a collection of songs rather than on coherent slow of them, The Fall ties in all of the tricks the individual tracks use into one epic track. While this isn’t your stereotypical 10 minute behemoth to end the album, the 6:50 run-time is far and away the longest track on the album. From again reusing multiple themes, using solos that both act as a break and a transition to the next segment, and utilizing slight tempo changes to give it that progressive edge that’s a bit reminiscent of later Iron Maiden. The track feels like the final confrontation of a hero’s journey, a battle in which you must use all that you had learned in order to face the demo that awaits. This is all metaphorical of course. The Fall is anything but a final boss, rather it’s about the downfall of the queen of the underworld. However regardless of lyrical content, it acts as a fitting conclusion to a record full of that’s full of them.
Satan has much matured it’s sound since the days of old, and in my eyes that’s for the better. This feels like a record made by those who have grown a lot since their absence and have now created a sound that takes the good elements of their old work, while still improving on what they have made before. Atom by Atom is classic, yet with a modern twist, and safe, yet with a bit of a bite. The soaring scream at the very moment the album begins ushers in a soon to be 2015 classic, transcending, in my opinion, Court in the Act on it’s way to being the heavy metal album of the year.