Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Enforcer – From Beyond

Swedish metal band Enforcer has long been hailed as one of the best traditional heavy metal/speed metal groups of the past decade, and rightfully so. There’s no denying “Diamonds” is one of the most impressive records in recent years, and though I was a bit let down by the still solid follow-up, “Death By Fire”, the band’s fourth record, “From Beyond”, shows them re-ascending to the heights of speed metal supremacy. Stylistically, it doesn’t differ from the band’s formula to this point: charged-up NWOBHM riffs, melodic vocals that have an edge to them, great guitar solos and loud bass. With that said, the band does add just enough to their sound on “From Beyond” to keep things interesting. The best example of the band’s exploration is the title track. This song gives of a huge Cauldron vibe, partially because of the galloping verses, but also because it has a hypnotic and mesmerizing chorus. It doesn’t feel as upbeat as the rest of the album, but it adds a more mysterious feel to the record.

Beyond the title track, the rest of the album is filled with future classics. “Undying Evil” is the obvious winner upon first listen. It is one of the best examples of the bands riff-writing abilities, especially some of the post-chorus riffs that make use of chords with different intervals from a standard power chord, which adds just a little bit more dissonance. “Destroyer” is the album’s opener, and it’s just as fast-paced and brutal as you would expect Enforcer to get. As the album goes on, the band continues to find ways to pull out classic riffs. The best example comes in “Hell Will Follow”. You’ll know it when you hear it (when the band slows down a bit on this song), as it’s one of those riffs that is so 80s that you can’t help but smile and bang your head when you hear it. It’s almost as if Diamond Head or Angel Witch took over the writing. Similarly, "The Banshee" opens with some serious Mercyful Fate worship before morphing into a more unique and catchy tune.

From Beyond” is also interesting because it shows vocalist Olof Wilkstrand getting a bit more adventurous in his approach. He’s always been a good singer, but songs like “Below The Slumber” and the aforementioned title track offer him opportunities to try new sounds. Surprisingly, he actually takes a bit of a rougher tone at times, rather than moving to an even cleaner sound. This is another great example of how Enforcer is advancing their sound through small steps rather than making drastic changes to the band. Ultimately, “From Beyond” approaches the greatness that was captured on “Diamonds”. While it isn’t quite as strong, it is definitely a step up from “Death By Fire”.

Be sure to check out and like Enforcer on Facebook!

Highlights
"Undying Evil"
"From Beyond"
"The Banshee"

Final Rating
4.5/5 or 90%. 

Written by Scott 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Isenmor – Land of the Setting Sun

Admittedly folk metal has always been a difficult subgenre of metal for me to enjoy. In general, I lean towards the bands that are essentially melodic death metal bands with only slight folk parts, but with Isenmor’sLand of the Setting Sun”, there is no escaping the violins. Much to my surprise (and delight), this EP is actually pretty well done. The most important element, metal, is still delivered. At times, the band makes use of crushingly heavy and fast guitar parts, complemented by extreme drumming. Both clean and harsh vocals are present on this release. The harsh vocals are definitely done a lot better, and lean towards a mix of both death and black metal styles, with more emphasis on raspy growls. By contrast, the clean vocals are a bit of a toss-up. The execution is decent enough, as the notes are usually being hit, but sometimes the actual melodic lines are just a bit too strange for their own good (“So Willingly Deceived” being the biggest offender, particularly because the track opens with some fantastic atmospheric chugging). I suppose it’s par for the course in folk metal, but relative to something like power metal, the vocal melodies just aren’t that strong.

Of course, “Land of the Setting Sun”, has a lot of emphasis on the violins, and this isn’t a bad thing. The violins often take the lead melody, not unlike keyboards would often do in this sound. Though I can’t say these leads are particularly memorable, they definitely fit the songs, particularly when there is some epic marching from the rhythm section underneath. Epic is the key word of this EP, as that is when the band is at their absolute best. Anytime they’re able to create a longing feeling of despair, or one of victory, it is extremely effective. This is most obvious on the title track, where an emotional vocal performance leads the charge, though it does pop up on other songs like “Pyre”.

Overall, “Land of the Setting Sun” was a positive surprise. It’s easy to see big fans of folk metal really digging this release, as the band manages to write compelling songs despite doing things a little bit outside of the norm for metal. The use of violins is something that could completely ruin a release if not done well, but Isenmor ensures violins are not gimmicky, which is why “Land of the Setting Sun” is worth a purchase of all folk metal fans.

Be sure to check out and like Isenmor on Facebook!

Highlight
"Land of the Setting Sun"

Final Rating
3.6/5 or 72%. 

Written by Scott 

Monday, May 18, 2015

Tankard – R.I.B.

If there’s one band you can count on in the metal scene to deliver a great album, it’s Tankard. Though there have been slight changes to the formula throughout the years, and even the lyrics occasionally (not every single song can be about beer!), the band has largely settled into an effective sound. “R.I.B.” is the band’s 16th album, and it sounds pretty much exactly like their last album. Tankard’s trademark riffing style is present on nearly every track; there are lots of mid-paced alternate picking sections (see the opener “War Cry” for one example), as well as tons of quirky, palm-muted riffs. Appearing alongside these riffs are Gerre’s aggressive and humorous vocals. His delivery is great because it always sounds like he’s telling a story with each song (like on “Fooled By Your Guts”), rather than shouting some incoherent ramblings.  

One thing that “R.I.B.” does experiment a bit with is creepy atmospheric intros. It shows up a few times throughout the record (“War Cry”, and the title track come to mind), and adds much-appreciated variety to the record, even if they are brief. Aside from this however, you can expect the typical fun that a Tankard record brings. As always, the band offers up some enjoyable and catchy lyrics alongside the thrashing they bring. Tankard is an exceptionally skilled songwriting unit, as the majority of these songs are memorable after a single listen. Tracks like “Fooled By Your Guts”, “Clockwise To Deadline”, and the appropriately titled “The Party Ain’t Over ‘til We Say So” are immediate winners, ranking right alongside anything else the band has done.

R.I.B.” is everything you could ask for in a Tankard album. What that really means is that it sounds exactly like you’d expect it to sound. Even though Tankard doesn’t thrash as fast or as hard as some other bands out there, they’re a lot more fun than most of them. The songs come first, and that’s why the band is consistently putting out records that are worth buying, no matter how similar they may be.

Be sure to check out and like Tankard on Facebook!

Highlights
"War Cry"
"Fooled By Your Guts"
"The Party Ain't Over 'til We Say So"

Final Rating
4.25/5 or 85%. 

Written by Scott 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Magnus Karlsson – Free Fall

Free Fall” is the debut solo record by power metal champion Magnus Karlsson. For those unfamiliar with his work, he’s currently one of the guitar players in Primal Fear and one of the reasons why they’re stronger than they’ve ever been. Additionally, he has a long history working with some other great bands  (Allen/Lande, for example) in similar styles. His debut album is sort of like a toned-down version of Primal Fear. Though there are lots of heavy riffs, it isn’t as aggressive, nor are the vocals are powerful or over the top as Ralf Scheepers (even the song that Scheepers appears on has a distinct tone from Primal Fear). In this sense, “Free Fall” would have more in common with traditional heavy metal and even AOR. This is because nearly every track has an incredibly anthemic chorus. It’s difficult to not hear Russell Allan’s cries of “Free Fall” or Karlsson’s phenomenal work in the chorus of “Heading Out” in your head as soon as the album ends.

This album features a number of great vocalists that are well renowned in the power metal world. For this reason, I was surprised to find that when Karlsson himself does the vocals, he is just as strong as any of the other singers. Like the others, he has a clean, soothing voice, though perhaps not as much range as someone like Scheepers (but few can match him). Because each singer is so good, it means that the album really lives and dies on the songs rather than the vocalist. Fortunately, nothing on this album is weak. In fact, it’s more a matter of which songs stand above the rest. In this case, the first three songs, as well as “Ready Or Not” and “On Fire” are probably the best. Again, it mostly comes down to the choruses. None of the songs are particularly unique or trend setting in terms of riffs, chord progressions, or melodies, so the album ultimately comes down to the catchiest tunes.

Typically when an incredible guitar player releases a solo album, the focus is on shredding. That is only partially the case here; the songs all feature very impressive guitar solos, but it’s really no different from what you could expect from Karlsson’s work with Primal Fear. With that said, this is not a Jason Becker-type solo album where it’s only guitar playing. Instead, it’s actually more of a testament to Karlsson’s abilities as a songwriter. Since he is an incredibly strong songwriter with a clear understanding of how to implement great hooks, the outcome is excellent. “Free Fall” is almost guaranteed to appeal to nearly all fans of power metal who can appreciate when bands dial back the intensity a bit, and instead go for more of a feel-good sound.

Be sure to check out and like Magnus Karlsson on Facebook!

Highlights
"Free Fall"
"Higher"
"Heading Out"

Final Rating
4.0/5 or 80%. 

Written by Scott 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Shattered – New Atlantis

Shattered is a new technical death metal band from Germany that is about to unleash their debut full-length “New Atlantis” to the world. Make no mistake, this album shreds. If you are a fan of technical death metal that falls right in the middle between the two extremes of Atheist and Brain Drill, this album will appeal to you. “New Atlantis” isn’t quite as unique or thought-provoking as the former band, but they also dial it down a bit compared to the latter band. For example, they have actual riffs rather than non-stop sweeping.

Where Shattered does mirror Brain Drill is that the drumming is incredibly intense. There is a lot of blasting, and though it isn’t the fastest I’ve heard, it is definitely a pretty impressive display of stamina. Likewise, the guitar and bass playing is beyond top-notch. While that is true of every band in the scene, Shattered is right up there with any of the others I’ve heard. And that really is both the good thing and the band thing about this record: it’s no different from a lot of other technical death metal albums. It has some cool moments, particularly when the bass makes an impact (such as the bass solos on “Ignite The Dawnshard” or "The Fall of Hyperion"), but is ultimately another very precise and solid sounding technical death metal album. Fans of the subgenre will naturally be drawn towards the band, but for the rest of us, the album won’t be a year-end list topper.

With that said, Shattered does do a lot right. The production, while quite clean and easy to understand, is not as crystal clear as a lot of bands in this genre. It also doesn’t seem to be too loud, instead striking the right balance between older and newer death metal. Another area where Shattered excels is in the vocal department. As with the rest of the members, their growler is clearly quite skilled, but what makes him stand above the rest of the crowd is that he enunciates very well and it isn’t difficult to pick up on a lot of the lyrics. The final thing I really dug about this album is that the feeling of each song changes considerably throughout the track. This is primarily driven by the drums; while the blasting does exist, there are also sections that are more focused on double bass, or even tamer, spacier sections where the drums let the other instruments shine. These may seem like small things, but they have a big impact on the quality of the record. Overall, “New Atlantis” is an incredibly competent technical death metal album, and there isn’t much more fans of the genre could ask for.

Be sure to check out and like Shattered on Facebook!

Highlights
All of it

Final Rating
3.75/5 or 75%. 

Written by Scott