Suffering from writers’ block after an exhausting touring cycle, Within Temptation singer Sharon den Adel found herself devoid of inspiration and worrying that she might not be able to write again. Eventually, she did begin composing once more, but on a smaller scale and for a more personal solo project released earlier this year. Continue reading →
“We all die. The goal isn’t to live forever but to create something that will…” begins the fifth Amaranthe album, all proudly released by Spinefarm. And while this particular release may not be quite in and of itself destined to live indefinitely in our hearts and minds, as a collective, the band really must be given credit for carving a sound and style that is wholly and completely their own. Ten years deep into a healthy and prolific career, Helix not only shows no sign of letting up but feels like a second wind to launch the band into a second decade. Continue reading →
Having formerly made up a third of Eluveitie, Anna Murphy (vocals, hurdy-gurdy, multi-instruments), Ivo Henzi (guitar and bass) and Merlin Sutter (drums) have launched Cellar Darling, their new vehicle with which to explore “the spirit of the stories our parents told us before going to sleep” to the backing of melodic, if steady, metal. Continue reading →
What exactly is going on in New York? The city has a long musical history, of course, but in recent years it seems to have become a focus point for challenging, original and distinctive Heavy Metal. We’re not talking about some forced “scene” with three or four decent bands setting the tone for a horde of bland followers, either – though Psalm Zero share a certain spirit with their neighbours in Pyrrhon, Krallice and Artificial Brain, musically they’re as distinctive as those bands are from each other.
Not that the music on Stranger To Violence (Profound Lore) is especially easy to describe. The label blurb makes much of their Pop influence, but this is hardly the chorus-heavy cheese-fest that word may suggest – the song-writing somehow marries catchiness to a genuine sense of unease and strangeness. The Metal elements shouldn’t be overlooked, either – the use of synths often calls to mind the darker side of eighties Pop, but just when you think you’ve got them in a box they’ll shift to a surging bombast that has more in common with Emperor than Depeche Mode. The extremely sparse use of harsh vocals in the most aggressive sections create a real sense of dislocation, too, hitting with an impact that they lack in music which uses them more regularly. It’s Pop Metal, but nothing like any other band that’s been given that name before.
If the music is hard to describe, the aesthetic behind it is no less so. The artwork suggests urban dystopia, and though that is certainly present on tracks like ‘Real Rain’ and ‘Stolen By Night’, there’s also an undercurrent of dark fantasy and strangeness to it that can’t be described easily. It’s frequently as uplifting as it is sinister, as dark as it is catchy.
In a genre with so many offshoots and sub-types that it seems as though every possibility has been thoroughly explored, Psalm Zero have genuinely succeeded in carving their own little niche – and it’s a strange, fascinating little place indeed.
If life is a journey, Bring Me The Horizon are living one helluva good one. From hated deathcore upstarts, bottled and attacked when playing support shows, to the slick, progressive metalcore of their breakthrough album Sempiternal (RCA/Epitaph), their career has been one of continuous upwards movement, both creatively but also commercially, a trend that is perpetuated by their excellent fifth album That’s The Spirit (RCA/Columbia).
While BMTH are no longer a “metal” band (while they haven’t been for a while, they’ve truly stepped outside those bounds now) their continued exploration of a poppier, slicker sound unreservedly suits them. Leaving behind the trappings of scenes metalcore and deathcore, That’s The Spirit takes the band into unchartered territories of song-writing and production to create an excellent modern rock album.
Starting the album with the subdued build of ‘Doomed’, the tone is set for something special as the reflective piece resets expectations, all subtle electronica and disseminated guitars. Partner in crime ‘Happy Song’ picks things up, utilizing a child vocal hook much like Faith No More’s ‘Be Aggressive’ before a lurching, thick riff courtesy of Lee Malia, who really shines as a diverse and clever player across the spectrum of the album, backs up the songs eponymous hook.
Smartly, …Horizon have continued their evolution, replacing the frenetic punkcore style of There Is A Hell… (Visible Noise), via Sempiternal, with a more controlled, dynamic and poppier approach; an approach that has led to a thousand-fold improvement in their song-writing. Whatever you do, don’t confuse replacing aggression with control as a sign of weakness – there is a powerful energy throughout.
They always had an x-factor, now they have refinement and intelligence and know how to channel that spark into top quality songs. Tracks like ‘Avalanche’ are enhanced by the full integration of keyboard player Jordan Fish adding strings, synth motifs and subtle electronica to back up a beast that swirls from down to upbeat, and another strong chorus, led by the excellent Oli Sykes.
Only the sedate ‘Follow You’ shows a slight dip in quality and there are highlights throughout; no less than ‘Throne’ with its poppy synth intro and Linkin Park trappings, a truly uplifting pop metal anthem. ‘True Friends’ and ‘Blasphemy’ BMTH show they’ve lost none of their cynicism, but more than that, they demonstrate the progression of Sykes from screamer to genuine lead singer, with powerful throaty moments leading to sweeping choruses, and he combines the two on the rockier catchy ‘What You Need’, a track fuelled by a juddering stadium-filling death rock bass line. ‘Drown’, initially released a year ago to prepare the way for the new BMTH sound, is an expertly crafted modern alternative rock song. Final track ‘Oh No’ closes the circle, a reflective yet upbeat poppy piece, reminiscent of the best moments of 30 Seconds To Mars, with Woah-ohs and dance synths closing things off with a smile.
Kudos must also go to Fish and Sykes for a stunning production job, with all the touches and trappings of the best pop productions balled up into huge rock sound. Influences may have switched from Norma Jean and At The Gates, but by moving beyond their contemporaries in quality, style and songwriting, BMTH now stand in class of one; truly at the top of the mountain.
If Suicide Season (Visible Noise/Epitaph) was their rebirth, There Is A Hell… the teenage ruttings of a band truly finding themselves and Sempiternal their coming of age album, That’s The Spirit is Horizon maturing into a fine young adult, confident, strong and secure in themselves and the knowledge that they are now master craftsmen.
Successfully combining every good aspect of alternative rock and metal of the last fifteen years, That’s The Spirit is Bring Me The Horizon’s “Black Album” moment.
Sometimes, perspective and a second chance can make all the difference. When the world was first introduced to Babymetal (Sony Music) in 2014, those parts of it that are likely to use the phrase “true Metal warrior” non-ironically exploded in a whirlwind of tears and finger-pointing, accusing the band and their fans of essentially betraying Metal in one of the most hysterical displays of Heavy Metal siege-mentality since… well, the last one. Even on the internet tantrums die down quickly, however, and with the benefit of a year’s distance and the vocal support of respected Metal figures like Kerry King and Jeff Walker, the hysterical crying has settled enough to allow us to ignore the controversy and look at the actual music.
Which is fortunate, because as it turns out the music on Babymetal is fantastic.
This is an unashamed Pop album that draws on elements of diverse Metal subgenres to create its own sound – it does not sound like To Mega Therion (Noise), and it would be foolish to expect it to. The argument that it is “not Metal” is equally silly, though – there is a solid core of accessible, polished, radio-friendly but still very “real” Metal running all the way through these songs. Big, tuneful and frequently very heavy riffs reference Melodic Death Metal, European Power Metal and the catchier side of Thrash with the confidence of musicians who very clearly understand those genres, and growled/screamed vocals interplay effectively with the three teenage singers.
Like all fusions, Pop-Metal only works if both elements are understood equally, and the triumph of Babymetal is that it marries the riffs and breakdowns of its Metal side with a flawless knack for how to write a Pop song. After the playfully pretentious intro, songs are paced with ruthless efficiency, structured around breathless choruses and cheeky key-changes lifted perfectly from the J-Pop side of their family tree. They’re also full to capacity with the quality that both Metal and Western Pop forget about too readily – joy. The elements of reggae, hip-hop and dance music (all translated through a J-Pop filter) are lacking the pretentious “wackiness” that such things often have, and feel like nothing less than the band having fun.
Looking back at Babymetal with the advantage of time and distance, most of the criticisms levelled at it are completely irrelevant. Critics made a big deal of the band’s “manufactured” nature, but while it is true that the band and their music were assembled by a professional agency, this collection of almost perfect songs – played by skilled musicians who can replicate the results live and are clearly into what they’re doing – make it hard to remember why it was supposed to be a bad thing that they didn’t meet backstage at a Bathtub Shitter gig.
Equally pointless but far more sinister was the “Paedo-Metal” accusation that’s still bandied around by some of the nastier online critics. In a genre which has always struggled with the representation of women probably the best non-musical thing about Babymetal is how entirely unsexualised the girls are, and how innocent the pleasure they’re obviously taking in their job is. If you think that the presence of young Japanese girls makes something inherently sexual that’s your prerogative, of course, but you might want to ask yourself some serious questions about why.
Babymetal is, all hyperbole and controversy aside, a brilliant Pop Metal album. It’s not for everyone – a quality that it shares with all “true Metal” – but it achieves what it sets out to do perfectly, and adds something truly worthwhile to the vocabulary of Metal.
Poppy, bit more symphonic than I was expecting. Went down a storm at Wembley with Within Temptation too.
DEVIN – Dark Matters
Aka Ziltoid 2. The heavier, more symphonic, more metally of the two parts of the double album. I like it, just a bit too much monkeying around at the expense of the songs, for me.
DRAGONFORCE – Maximum Overload
Not quite as good as ‘The Power Within’ but still proving they write better songs since changing vocalists. Some belters on here, tbf.
ENGEL – Raven Kings
Like In Flames, but heavier guitars and catchier choruses. I like this one (well, I like them all on here, or they wouldn’t be on here, but this surprised me). Wrote about it, too. https://ghostcultmag.com/engel-raven-kings/
Took me by surprise this one. Adding a large dose of Ulcerate to their sound, but all the better for it. Rather than rattle clattering through a load of sterile overly tight DM/core, they wrote some (very) heavy songs, too.
Interesting album, this one. Don’t think I’ve quite given it all the time it deserves, but another I’ve liked this year that doesn’t just sit in a box. It starts from Death Metal but doesn’t stay there.
OBITUARY – Inked In Blood
Really good comeback album. Big grooves. Big riffs. Great tunes. Well done. Best Obi’s album since ‘Cause of Death’ , for me.
ORIGIN – Omnipresent
This is a relentless fucker, this one. Love the aggression, love the riffing, love the technicality, love how much it just wants to punch you in the ear drums.
SLEEP OF MONSTERS – Produces Reason
Babylon Whores are one of my “hidden treasures”, probably the most underrated band of all time, always loved Ike’s vocals, too. He doesn’t quite hit it with his new outfit, but some cool gothy, dark/death rock going on. Grabbed this one for review as soon as it appeared in the inbox. https://ghostcultmag.com/sleep-of-monsters-produces-reason/
SLUGDGE – Gastronomicon
Only heard this once so far, but really impressed me on first go, will be getting a fair few listens going forward. Interesting modern melodic death metal.
In amongst the big boys now, with the Official Ghost Cult Top 10 Albums of 2014. Kicking off with albums 10 to 6, these were the attention and headline grabbing albums that provided the soundtrack to the year…
10. DEVIN TOWNSEND – Z2 (HevyDevy/InsideOut)
Not one but two aural explosions from everyone’s favourite Canadian ADD sufferer. Disk 1 showcases the epic pop-Metal melodies expounded on Epicloud, in a vibrant collection of melodies, twists and simply great tunes, while Disk 2 is the long awaited Ziltoid sequel, a more symphonic and aggressive take on the original. Devin has shown, once again, that no matter what project fills his head, he is a pure musical genius, with 3 albums (technically) in our Top 50.
“Double albums are notoriously difficult beasts to grapple with. If there’s a suspicion of ‘all filler, no killer’, that’s perhaps understandable given some of rock music’s recent inglorious past when it comes to musical heft. The common consensus on this sort of exercise ranges from how to edit Use Your Illusion (Geffen) into one digestible chunk; realising that, yes, Fleetwood Mac really did do ALL of the drugs when recording Tusk (Warner Bros) and, frankly, even Corey Taylor must think that there is way too much padding on House of Gold and Bones (Roadrunner). Breathe easier, then, as this is not a sprawling, indulgent mess. Z2 is indulgent and there is a LOT to get through but Z2 is two records being issued simultaneously rather than some attempt at a single, 23 song epic.”
9. AT THE GATES – At War With Reality (Century Media)
After a gap of 19 (NINETEEN!) years the Fathers of the Gothenburg sound released the follow up to one of the greatest extreme albums of time, the genuine legend that was Slaughter of the Soul (Earache). That they didn’t embarrass themselves is one thing, that they were able to ignite the flame of excitement in older fans and pick up newer ones, whose favourite bands swore by the altar of ATG is testament to their quality.
“At War With Reality is a genuinely worthwhile listen and worth the 19 year wait. It still sounds like At The Gates, not the razor-focused Slayer-worship of Slaughter of the Soul, although those moments are still present, but an all-encompassing At The Gates that draws from the band’s entire back catalogue. At The Gates have shown the world that they’re still the most powerful force in melodic death metal. At War With Reality does more than just prop up the band’s legacy, it enhances it.”
8. PALLBEARER – Foundations of Burden (Profound Lore)
Doooooooooooooom, beautiful doooooooooooom! Melancholy, poignant, mournful and emotive, the second album from Arkansas’ Pallbearer set new standards in textured 70’s styled doom, twining haunting, reflective leads, heart-felt impassioned lyrics and vocals, and down-tuned crashes.
“Superlatives and panegyrics are thrown around like confetti these days, and mostly for albums that just don’t deserve them. Here is an entity beyond words. The blend of crushing weight and sadness that twines with an almost paradoxical ascension to light throughout this quite magnificent set is sublime and inspirational. This willingness to puncture doom’s boundaries and travel outside them surely hails Pallbearer as the most important band of their genre right now.”
7. TRIPTYKON – Melana Chasmata (Century Media / Prowling Death)
The sound of decomposition in thick, gloopy, stained riffage, the darkest end of despair in musical format, the sound of utter personal devastation hammered relentlessly into your ears as Tom G Warrior continues the styling first unveiled on Celtic Frost’s swansong, Monotheist. Beyond the gloom, beyond the end of the universe, lurks Triptykon’s second opus magnificum.
“Still gloriously innovative at 50, the enigmatic and death-obsessed Thomas Gabriel Fischer returns with his latest and possibly most enigmatic incarnation. The darkly expansive Eparistera Daimones, the first Triptykon album, displayed a panoply of musical styles. Remarkably, sophomore suite Melana Chasmata sees a deeper mining of that creativity, reaffirming the band’s reluctance to be confined by any musical barrier and confirming the triumphant second coming of Gabriel’s most inventive, diverse and impressive guise.”
Perhaps the most hotly anticipated “pure” Death Metal release of the second half of the year, this Polish hate machine did not disappoint, with a career and genre defining masterpiece, adding to their impressive canon with an absolute killer of cemtex-infused vocal growls, blistering drumming, colossal grooves and excessive riffs. But this was no old school rehash, the Krosno krew enhance their wares with industrial touches, and an insinuation of Slipknot showing this is a thoroughly modern and quite exceptional Death Metal band.
“With this much skill at their disposal, looking back it almost seems embarrassing that they were ever doubted. To use a lazy comparison, Decapitated are like (Marvel Comics anti-hero) Blade; they possess all of the strengths of Death Metal and none of its weaknesses. And it’s increasingly evident they cannot be killed. Quite simply Blood Mantra is one of the finest Death Metal albums to be released now or ever and it’s difficult to see how it can be topped. One thing is for sure; Vitek would be proud.”
2014 seems to have been the year that symphonic metallers Within Temptation proved their status as one of metal’s modern giants. Arena tour shows across the globe including in the notoriously difficult to tackle UK market (which sees very few bands of our world reach such heights, and still stumble), the announcement of their return to BloodstockOpen Air in 2015 as main stage headliners, and a new album in Hydra (BMG/Nuclear Blast) which epitomised their grandiosity (and even got songs onto Radio 2). This double live release is a showcase of what to expect from this special act.
The first half sees the long awaited release of their 15th anniversary show Elements (BMG) from Antwerp, with accompaniment from Il Novecentro Orchestra, whilst the second is taken from their Amsterdam show this year in support of Hydra (for clarity this review is based on the audio and not the video content). Both sets have significance for different reasons and it is commendable for this reason instead of a lazy release of near identikit sets. Encompassing and celebrating the band’s history, Elements proved a milestone show with a wealth of rarities and guest appearances from ex members such as Martjin Westerholt, plus a large chunk of their well received The Unforgiving (Roadrunner) album, which was released the previous year.
The accompanying orchestra adds an extra element of boldness to proceedings, making the likes of ‘Stand My Ground’ sound absolutely colossal. Not to mention that WT are always a reliably impressive live act; with Sharon den Adel showcasing her talismanic presence.
The second set may not have the gravitas of celebration of its predecessor but is still a huge statement of their strength as a live act. In support of their latest effort, this shares some set similarities but holds a significant chunk of Hydra (opener ‘Let Us Burn’ leaving no prisoners), particular highlight being ‘Dangerous’ with guest vocals by Howard Jones projected via video screen. Yes it would have been great to have the collaborators perform live, and the clumsy ‘And We Run’ could have been omitted from the set altogether, but this shows that even on a more standard booking, Within Temptation are a true live presence.
Fans will of course lap this up, and the uninterested will not have their minds changed, but nevertheless this is a fine exhibition of one of our worlds largest entities (whether you like it or not) in their natural environment.