Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Insanity – Visions of Apocalypse

With 1994’s “Death After Death”, Insanity became one of many classic underground death metal acts. Though they’ve been around most of the time in some form or another since that release, they would not release another full-length until 2015’s “Visions of Apocalypse”. As much as I hate to admit it, I still haven’t tracked down a copy of their debut, so this release also marks my introduction to the band. My verdict is somewhat mixed; on the one hand, the band has captured the aesthetics of 1990s death metal perfectly, down to even the production. On the other, they lack any sort of unique identifying quality. This makes it difficult to discern amongst them, or the legions of other death metal bands out there. After several listens, “Visions of Apocalypse” has gone in one ear and out the other each time.

Insanity’s strengths are largely the fact that they’ve done this for a long time. Every riff is unabashed death metal, without a hint of compromise. Blasting is used, but not overdone. The rhythm section as a whole provides an extremely bludgeoning effort. Double bass is relatively consistent throughout the record, as you might expect. The solos are twisted, and the vocals are perverse. Again though, this is all par for the course for death metal. At times this release shows a lot of influence from early Deicide because of the strange leads (“Sociopath” being the best example). The lead playing is welcomed because the rhythm guitars are a little bit too muffled. It’s difficult to make out exactly what they’re playing, and while the cavernous production is appreciated, it is taken a little bit too far. The band did succeed at making “Visions of Apocalypse” sound like it was recorded in the 1990s, but they made it sound like an album that was restricted by its recording budget. This is unlikely to be the case with modern recording techniques, but the point is that this is an example of a record where trying to sound authentic ultimately hurts the release.

Aside from the production, “Visions of Apocalypse” has no technical faults. Even the most intricate parts are played with astounding precision. The vocals are standard in their approach, but aggressive enough to get the job done. Once again though, there is nothing to separate them from any other death metal singer. Ultimately however, the biggest problem with “Visions of Apocalypse” is just that there’s nothing to remember it by. You’re better off throwing on a mid-tier Deicide record, but if you really crave more death metal, this album is likely to satisfy you.

 Be sure to check out and like Insanity on Facebook!


Final Rating
3.2/5 or 64%. 

Written by Scott 

Monday, October 5, 2015

High Heeler – Force and Finesse

Austria is not a country that gets a lot of love when it comes to metal, but they have a surprisingly deep traditional heavy metal scene. One such example is High Heeler, who has recently signed to Swords and Chains Records for the release of their first full-length album, “Force and Finesse”. This title perfectly describes the sound of the record. The force aspect comes from the energetic, aggressive riffs that dominate the album. The album is practically overflowing with riffs that hearken back to the NWOBHM, where bands pushed the envelope as far as they could without the influence of punk. On the other hand, the finesse aspect comes from a variety of different areas. The first is the production; unlike many current traditional heavy metal albums, “Force and Finesse” does not have a modern production, and the guitar tone doesn’t have as much low end. This naturally allows the lead guitars more room to breathe, creating a bouncier, less-precise sound (though still perfectly in time).

Another area where the finesse is evident is in the vocals of the fantastically named individual, Poison Poser. His singing is somewhat of a blend between the sounds of Cauldron and Enforcer (moreso the former than the latter). He largely stays in the upper range (without hitting the highs of power metal singers), but he doesn’t provide a ton of strength in his technique. This makes his voice somewhat mesmerizing, not unlike Jason Decay’s. It also gives the album a bit of a glammy vibe at times. That is not to say they’re a full-on hair band, but anyone who appreciates those bands will definitely find even more to enjoy on this record.

From a songwriting perspective, High Heeler is above many of their contemporaries. The entire record is quite consistent in terms of quality, but a couple of tracks stand above the rest. The first is “Au Revoir”, which excels due to Poison Poser’s strong vocal performance. The chorus is catchier than anything else on the record. “Au Revoir” also features tons of lead playing, and while it is not as flashy as something from a White Wizzard record, for example, it is equally tasteful. The other standout song is “Midnight Angel”, which is notable for the incredible riff that kicks off the track. It’s one of those “feelgood” metal riffs; not particularly heavy, but very effective. The remaining 7 songs offer up similar sounds, and ultimately make “Force and Finesse” a very enjoyable release. Though it has taken High Heeler a while to release their first studio album (having been around since 2000), they are sure to make an immediate impact in the metal scene!

Be sure to check out and like High Heeler on Facebook!

"Au Revoir"
"Midnight Angel"

Final Rating
4.4/5 or 88%. 

Written by Scott 

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Antioch – Antioch II: First Strÿke

Off the heels of an excellent EP that was released last year, Canadian heavy metal band Antioch returns with “Antioch II: First Strÿke”. This shows the band take a distinct step forward both in terms of forging their own identity and their level of Judas Priest worship (somewhat of a contradiction, but it rings true on this record). From the opening scream of “The Strÿker Rides” (which is a great up-tempo opener in the vein of “Rapid Fire”) you know you’re in for something inspired by the Metal Gods. The band’s vocalist, Nicholas Allaire, has his own interesting mid-range voice that sounds nothing like Halford, but he also does an excellent job emulating the high-pitched, almost growly vocals that were prevalent on "Painkiller". Though the vocals are impressive, they would benefit from being mixed a little more loudly.

Musically, this album also follows the path of the Priest. In particular, the record is based around the “Screaming For Vengeance”/ “Defenders of the Faith” era, which was filled with incredibly hard-rocking riffs (admittedly there are exceptions, such as the "Painkiller-influenced "Venomspitter"). “Iron Serpent” is one of the best examples of this, as it is driven by a strong beat, alongside a catchy, anthemic chorus. This song is definitely the best on the album because it sounds like it was written to close out their live shows. In other words, it is high energy, easy to sing along to, and overall is a lot of fun. After these first two songs, the quality of the album takes a serious dip. Everything sounds passionate and competent, but the remaining songs lack the hooks that the first two songs had. “Enhammered” shows a lot of promise in the chorus because of the way it intertwines Allaire’s singing with backing vocals, but the remainder of the track does not stick out.

Another difficulty with “Antioch II: First Strÿke” is that the production isn’t the best. I’m no advocate of the loudness war, but this album would benefit from being a bit louder and better mixed. There are a lot of interesting things going on at any given time, but the production doesn’t really highlight that. This might even be a case where adding another guitar track or two to beef things up would make a substantial difference. Overall though, it does feel like the band has gained a bit of an identity with this album. Even though it is firmly rooted in the Priest-worship category, there are not many bands that emulate that 1982-1984 sound so convincingly, and with a bit of refinement in the production and songwriting, Antioch is likely to turn a lot of heads.

Be sure to check out and like Antioch on Facebook!

"The Strÿker Rides"
"Iron Serpent"

Final Rating
4.0/5 or 80%. 

Written by Scott  

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Frank X – The Project: Earth

The Project: Earth” is a concept album by Frank X that features a whole cast of interesting characters and sounds. Upon first listen, this album is strange. Unlike most strange things I come across, however, this is strange in a good way. It’s filled with interludes featuring dialogue that advances the story, and these passages occasionally even spill over into the musical tracks. The good news is that even if you don’t follow the story and are just listening along to these tracks, there is still quite a bit of humour in them. The acting isn’t exactly phenomenal (closer to early Rhapsody than later Rhapsody in terms of spoken word), but it fits the comical nature of the album.

Of course, the main focus of this album is the music, and it is definitely interesting in its own way. In general, it tends to lean towards traditional heavy metal with the symphonic vibes used to enhance the atmosphere and story of the album. In many respects, “The Project: Earth” could be likened to a mid/late-era King Diamond album, where a charismatic, albeit odd vocal performance carries music that tends to be less riff focused. Frank X’s vocals are more than sufficient on this record; he doesn’t offer a particularly wide range, but instead uses his haunting voice to enchant the listener. Many parts of this album sound more like a ritual or conjuring.

Unlike Queensryche’s great concept album, “The Project: Earth” is not a record with individual standouts. In fact, the earlier comparison of King Diamond’s 90s and 2000s career still holds because the album as a whole is incredibly consistent and enjoyable, but its success is due to its cohesion. Many of the tracks are consistently pounding and heavy, but without fast crazy riffs. This means that the near-hour runtime will be an enjoyable experience, but there is not a ton to cling to afterwards.

The Project: Earth” is an ambitious release, and while Frank X’s vision has been mostly realized, it is not without flaws. One problem is that the mixing between the 100% spoken tracks and the music is not perfect. It’s better than on most other records that intertwine the two, but the acted tracks feel a bit quieter than the music. These sections also give rise to the other issue: they’re simply too frequent. While they can be quite funny, the interludes tend to be more successful when they’re mixed directly into the music. As this album exceeds 56 minutes, it’s already rather lengthy, and having a 4-minute intro with no music, for example, is a bit over the top. 

On the whole, these criticisms are easily ignored because the execution on this record is incredible. Concept albums are always ambitious, and comedic ones even moreso. Frank X manages to combine the two in a unique way, while showing homage to an artist like King Diamond, and ultimately create an interesting product. As someone that normally shies away from this sort of thing, “The Project: Earth” was a pleasant surprise.  

Be sure to check out and like Frank X on Facebook!

All of it

Final Rating
3.9/5 or 78%. 

Written by Scott