There was a time where Metal had an ageism problem; the perception prevalent that once heavier bands passed certain milestone birthdays or anniversaries, or wracked a certain number of albums, or miles on the road, they became jaded, watered-down parodies of themselves. The late nineties, and, to be fair, a good chunk of the first decade of this millennium, were not kind to our grizzled veterans, some of whom fed into the prophecy, with stock output outweighing those who could still hold their own.
After months of rumours fuelled by glimpsed sightings and blurry photographs taken outside recording studios, the worst kept secret in rock was finally confirmed at the end of September this year. With a sudden flurry of activity on their website, the announcement was clear. AC/DC was back.
Tyrant’s long-awaited fourth album, Hereafter (ShadowKingdom Records), has come out under some rather interesting circumstances. In addition to serving as the Pasadena veterans’ first full-length since 1996’s King of Kings, Hereafter sees journeyman vocalist Robert Lowe at the helm in place of Glen May. The prospects of this collaboration are certainly intriguing, especially as a fan of Lowe’s work with Solitude Aeturnus and Candlemass. I wouldn’t go so far as to think of it as Tyrant gone doom, but it approaches their established sound from a noticeably different angle.
Sometimes you don’t know you miss a band until you remember they’ve been gone. For California’s Light This City, it’s been over eight years since they broke up. Then they put out a new album in Terminal Bloom(Creator- Destructor) and it sounds like they never left. Plus the production is a killer. It sounds clean and gritty at the same time. Zach Ohren has once again produced a melodic thrash and death metal masterpiece.
After a handful of years away from the studio, Magrudergrind has returned with their heart-racing album, II (Relapse). For twenty-three and a half minutes, the grindcore outfit will punch you in the stomach, throw you to the ground, and then help you back up for more. I personally did not have a large sample size of the bred in Washington D.C., now in Brooklyn, NY trio prior to listening to this album, but this album has put me on a quest to find more. A perfect mix of grindcore and power violence kept me interested from start to finish with no real breaks in the action.
I always find it a bit difficult to pick out favorite songs on an album where most of the tracks are less than two minutes (not saying that is a bad thing either). One of those songs is actually just shy of three and a half minutes, ‘Black Banner.’ As one of the few points in the albums where things slow down and get heavy, this abnormally long track from Magrudergrind will have you violently head bang and then two-step all over your living room. Speaking of long songs, the other longer than typical track on the album is ‘Unit 731.’ This song starts off with that slow, heavy feel again but eventually snaps into a more traditional grindcore song. The song certainly felt like it had multiple personalities with these two sides to make up one of the more memorable tracks on II.
I was very impressed with this latest effort from Magrudergrind and probably in part that it took quite a few years to get some new material. Yet, it sounds like not a single step was lost from the group.
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People love a great comeback story. Anything that shows a triumph against some kind of adversity, especially if you created it yourself, they will lap that up all day long. Some musical acts leave at the top of their game, while others split just in time before fizzing out creatively. When it came to Faith No More’s acrimonious split in the late 90s, it felt like it might have been coming for a while. The band certainly did not burn out their creative spark, nor did they wear out their welcome with fans. They were so prolific, so versatile, and so smart, you knew there would never be another act quite like them. When they came back in 2009 as a live act, they opened their shows with ‘Reunited’, the soft R&B song from 70’s duo Peaches and Herb, as a nod to the fans. After testing the waters with each other, the band decided they could stick together and make new music. Well the long wait is over and Sol Invictus (Reclamation Recordings/Ipecac) is here to put to rest any doubts you may have had about their comeback.
Opening with the title track, the band picks up basically where they left off with 1997’s Album of The Year (Slash). The track sounds right at home with their past, yet has some interesting elements on its own. Gradually easing in like a foot in a fuzzy slipper, it’s an “ah yes…” moment you get to have with yourself as the track envelopes you. Recurring lyrical themes on the album about regeneration, reinvention and that other “re” word we spoke of already begin popping up here too. ‘Superhero’ reminds one that despite being remembered for big commercial hits, at their most accessible they were never a true singles band that was pappy and easily digestible. ‘Sunny Side Up’ is an angsty ballad with great lyrical grist. Most of the tracks have a sonic kinship of the beloved King For A Day…Fool For A Lifetime (Slash) album too: hidden meanings, lyrical twists, massive piano and bass driven songs as a foil for Mike Patton’s emotive soulfulness and rubbery larynx.
‘Separation Anxiety’ is the heaviest track on Sol Invictus and certainly if you are the type of person that pines for the first three FNM albums, this is the song that will resonate with you the most. ‘Cone of Shame’ is wildly dynamic and strange, but also driving and melodious. Patton shows off the most of his insane vocal ability here too. The perfect blend of all of the rollicking elements of the band you want in one track.
Although Billy Gould, who produced the album (except for Patton’s vocals) is always seen as a driving force of the band and definitive mouthpiece, Roddy Bottum’s keyboards dominate this album. All of his weird 80s synth-pop craziness, mixed with his deft jazzbo piano stylings are ever-present in songs such as the torchy ‘Rise of the Fall’, the sinister yet beautiful ‘Matador’, and elsewhere.
‘Black Friday’ is a vampy Cramps-style number, complete with slapback guitars and whipping beats. This is also the track where guitar stands out the most, lending to the idea that without being the heavy guitar driven band of their youth, there is room for all of the parts of the monster to flourish properly. ‘Motherfucker’ is a conundrum of a song. You intrinsically laugh at the notion of a clever pop song as a massive ‘fuck you’ to those in power. Mike Patton as a new-age politicized Beat Poet? Why not! However, the song is undeniably subversive and smart, as is all the best material this band has put out. The build up to the chorus is glorious, Patton’s notes held like the vibrato of a well-bowed cello, hitting you where you live.
‘Back From the Dead’ may sound like a 60s slice of pop, right down to its jangly guitar and churchy “ahs” and “oohs” backing vocals. However the sentiment of “Welcome home my friend…’ in the lyrics could totally be a very meta, and self-referencing. After all; resurrection may be for those who got it wrong the first time, but the same cannot be said of Faith No More whose return is a welcome and worthy one. Let’s hope it lasts as long as it can.
The Haunted are one of those bands that peaked early and spent the intervening years trying to match past feats. It’s been almost 15 years six albums and since 2000’s Made Me Do It, but they have finally made an album that is easily on the same level, if not better than their magnum opus.
Exit Wounds (Century Media) sees the return of Marco Aro on vocals, and a return to a heavier, more traditionally ‘Swedish’ sound. Gone are swathes of clean vocals seen on 2011’s unloved Unseen, along with the more hardcore aspects that were a staple of former vocalist Peter Dolving’s tenure. In its place is a furious album of aggressive thrash and classic melodic death metal.
Whether it’s the return of Aro and Adrian Erlandsson on drums, or the arrival of new guitarist Ola Englund (Six Feet Under), the band sound reinvigorated. The album is filled with urgency and manages to be relentlessly heavy without compromising on those insanely catchy riffs. The classic In Flames and At The Gates influences are easy to make out, but there’s plenty of moments that bring to mind Lamb Of God at their most intense.
From the crushing ‘Cutting Teeth’ and the groove-laden ‘Time (Will Not Heal)’ to the catchy choruses of ‘Psychonaut’ and ‘Eye of The Storm’, there’s little let up in terms of aggression or quality. Aro’s guttural vocals are uncompromising, but it’s the array of Jeff Hannemen-inspired shredding and searing solos from guitarists Patrik Jensen and Englund that really make the album. Even at a lengthy 14 tracks, the band manage to keep focus and retain the listener’s interest; the galloping riffs and epic chorus of ‘Ghost In The Machine’ round off an album filled with quality moments.
After the relative hiccup of Unseen and arguably a case of diminishing returns for a while now, The Haunted have come back stronger than ever. Whether Exit Wounds is actually better than Made Me Do It doesn’t really matter. It’s easily the band’s best effort a decade, and if it wasn’t for an impending album from At The Gates, by far the best album from Sweden in 2014.