With one black leather thigh-high boot in the hard rock camp, and the other stomping down on the metal side of the fence, comes the confident swagger of Swedish quartet Sister Sin. Following hard on the heels of a successful second stage Bloodstock headline performance this year, it’s easy to see why the band are self-assured, as the headbanging ‘Food For Worms’ launches their fifth album Black Lotus (Victory).
Vocalist Liv Jagrell has bark, bite and edge in her voice, a metal snarl that stays around the mid-range, as the Scandinavians impart an album of no-surprises rock/metal that doesn’t just throwback, but whole-heartedly engages in the worship of the days of Accept and Dio. While comparisons with Doro may seem too obvious (and I tried my damnedest to avoid them), nonetheless ‘Desert Queen’ and ‘Ruled By None’ are smack bang in Pesch territory. Pleasingly, though, Sister Sin aren’t adverse to chucking the odd curveball in, as the more epic ‘Count Me Out’ inspires thoughts of Tony Martin era Sabbath jamming with Metal Church and the countrified ballad ‘The Jinx’ is a good tune which shows Sister Sin have chops, as it would have been easy to have car-crashed going down that particular alley.
At this stage in the game, while it’s too late to expect anything special from Sister Sin, it would be churlish to discount them completely as they are a whole-hearted and exceptionally competent act who deliver gratifying, committed hard rocking heavy metal like it’s going out fashion. I guess the problem is, we know it went out of fashion twenty years ago and came back stronger and more diverse than ever shortly after. We also know The Gods Made Heavy Metal, and that it’s never gonna die, so considering the tumults of great out there, it’s difficult to champion a release that is Top C grade in the grand scheme of things when there are so many A Grade acts out there doing something more interesting.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with Black Lotus. It scratches an itch, but does so in the same non-permanent way that countless others do.
Latin metal band Ill Ill Niño have had a lot on their plate with the release of their seventh studio album, Till Death, La Familia (Victory Records), a spot on 2014’s Mayhem Festival, and a tour in Russia, all while finding balance between their lives as musicians and as men with growing families. With about a decade and a half with the band under his belt, vocalist Cristian Machadogave us some insight as to how the creative process has changed over time as their lives have progressed
“We’re trying to be more mature songwriters and in different ways, not every album has the same approach. It’s just like you put it, every album has a very different flavor going on even though it can all be interpreted as Ill Nino, it’s got the very traditional Ill Nino signature rhythm and tones, but, I think every album is from a completely different point of view. On this album, I think we wanted to get back to our own instinctual place. I think we wanted to write more from a fan’s point of view and just ourselves in general, from the point of view of a fan, a music fan, and what we want to hear in Ill Nino’s sound. I know, personally, doing albums when you’re self producing an album, it can psychologically be this maze where you can get into the over-contemplation of a lot of parts, and different creative ideas, and things like that. We do try to get everything to flow very naturally, vocally. I was given some really awesome songs by Ahrue Luster, Laz Pina, Diego Verduco, and Dave Chavarri. I definitely wasn’t sure on any musical inspiration. I just wanted to come from the gut a little bit more; things that feel good. From a melody side, sound refreshing to my ear and tones that suit the songs as much as possible. As far as words and themes, I think that a darker side of me came out after going through the birth of my daughter and starting to realize that the world is really screwed up and full of violent images and has a very angry media presence. I think my defensive, protective, father side came out and perhaps it translates a little violently onto the lyrics but it’s really trying to do the opposite. I’m actually trying to not glorify criminality and try to make sense of the world a little bit more while still hoping for a better future. I think that a lot of that was just instinctual, you go as an individual and, hopefully, within a band, you grow as a musician and as friends. A lot of trust went into this new album, we looked up to each other very much and there was this very big, open creative space and there weren’t these huge battles about parts and I think that’s what music is supposed to be at the end of the day. When five or six people form a band, and they have a hugely successful first album, the fans can read into the creative decision making when a band feels comfortable and it will translate to them and they can relate to the music. We wanted to write as cool as we could write right now and take into consideration everything that we’ve done in the past, the grooves we’ve used, the bilinguality of the band, and the duality of our sound, but we wanted to be more refreshing, to feel more grown, and to, obviously, continue to grow and expand as musicians and song writers.”
You mentioned that you’ve noticed a change in yourself coming from a producing standpoint. When working on material now, do you actively see yourself switching into that producer mindset and then switching back into the musician?
On the two records prior to Till Death, La Familia, we were self producing and not really working with anyone outside of the band, and I think that was growth that we needed to experience ourselves before getting to present where we worked with Eddie Wohl who’s an amazing and very talented producer. Even though there really wasn’t this huge change to anything that I was bringing into the studio, there was the sense of relaxation, that I’m working with someone great, and that I trusted. On past records, I did have a battle within my own mind; where do I draw the line between recording the album with the band and getting down to where I need to do which is to write vocals and tell a story? On this album I was able to do that, I was able to focus on what I wanted to say and the tone that I wanted to bring to the band. At the end of the day, I wanted to compliment the songs that Ahrue, Laz, Diego, and Dave had written as much as possible. I was lucky, I’m very lucky and I wouldn’t want to go back to doing it the other way where we’re just self producing albums. For me, it was easier than Ahrue who wrote a lot of music and did a lot of arranging without having to record himself. Vocally, I was blessed this time around and I look forward to doing things this way where I can just focus on the creative element and not have to worry about too many other things. I think it definitely gets in the way of myself as a musician. In order for me to expand and grow as a song writer, I have to commit to that first and foremost. I’m very grateful for the way I was able to do this album. I have to give a lot of credit to the guys in the band and to Eddie Wohl.
Speaking of the guys in the band…You’re no strangers to lineup changes but you’ve had a solid core team for a number of years up until Daniel Couto’s decision to leave the group; what has the band dynamic been like with Oscar Santiago carrying Danny’s torch after his departure?
“Having Oscar in the band is a blessing, he’s probably the origin Latin percussion player in metal. He’s somebody that we’ve looked up to for years and Puya, his band that he’s played with for so many years has been a huge influence on us so having him in the band definitely changes the dynamic in that we want to start moving more towards his rhythmic direction. On this album it was difficult to incorporate everything that we wanted to but I think that having him in the band now is truly a blessing and we’re going to be able to move, rhythmically, closer to territory where we used to be while still keeping in mind the things that we’ve expanded upon. As a band with a fifteen year career, at our level, it’s very tough, it’s not like any of us are making a bunch of money. At a Metallica level, where a band is universally famous, there’s a lot of money to be made and it’s easier to stay in a band where you can support your family and have them travel with you. In our case, where we’re at that medium theater to large theater touring circuit, every penny matters and we leave our families at home a lot. Some of the people in the band felt it was necessary to have more time at home. The older we get, the more we realize why they left and we can’t really tour just to tour. It has to be something extremely worthwhile to the fans and it has to be worthwhile to us as well because we have to leave our families behind. As far as changing band members, Danny, who played percussion before Oscar, he’s staying home with family and recently had a baby. Jardel Paisante has a family as well. Besides that, we changed a couple of band members after the first album but that was a creative and personal difference more than anything else.”
Following on from their self-released debut album Reformation in 2013, Poughkeepsie, NY based Meridian have been gathering an impressive following across America in the past year. Despite their age, with every member of the band being under 21, this fresh out of high school quintet have already landed themselves a spot on the roster of Victory Records for their sophomore album The Awful Truth alongside bands such as A Day to Remember, Ill Nino and Sister Sin.
It seems there is an endless procession of bands proclaiming that they have emerged as saviors of a genre recently, and this band is no exception stating Meridian was formed to save a dying scene. Despite these claims, the band doesn’t rigidly stick within the confines of one genre, rooting themselves in hardcore, but mixing in lashings of metalcore and a distinct pop sensibility. It’s not too often you find an abrasive genre like hardcore mixed in with the catchy nuances of pop music, and this album proves this is for good reason. Their attempts to tackle hard-hitting topics like depression and childhood neglect are marred by catchy pop vocal lines that distract from their message. The impact is lost under layers of auto-tune and awkward breakdowns.
Although the vocals generally dominate each track, switching between screams and clean melodic lines they are quickly revealed as the weakest part of the music. The screams lacking depth and cleans are over-embellished which rapidly proves irritating. While the catchy quality may gather a teen following, their music creates very little impact for the more seasoned hardcore listener.
Chances are if you’ve followed mainstream metal in the past 15 years or so that you will have seen many a band come, many a band go and many stick around trying to re-create their previous success. Back in the early 2000’s Latin metallers Ill Nino were a regular feature of the scene, their first album Revolution Revolucion (Roadrunner) garnering them more than a few fans. Cut to the present day and Ill Nino are still alive and kicking, although their latest album isn’t quite as alive or kicking as the band themselves as Till Death, La Familia (Victory) leaves a feeling of indifference.
Starting with ‘Live Like There’s No Tomorrow,’ the song doesn’t give off the sense of urgency the title suggests it should have, the cries of “live like there’s no tomorrow” falling flat. After this, things do improve but only sporadically, with tracks such as the aggressively melodic ‘Not Alive In my Nightmare’ standing alongside such bland affairs as ‘Blood Is Thicker Than Water.’ It’s a running theme throughout the album with the good songs only really turning up in the middle section of the LP, which may be a bit too late for some listeners. ‘Pray I Don’t Find You,’ a slow starting but ultimately menacing track is one of the pick of the bunch, as its quick instrumental work and hostile shouts combine to create something very much worth listening to. Following number ‘World So Cold’ keeps up the angry entertainment, while ‘Dead Friends’ is yet another contender.
The problem, however, is that Till Death, La Familia doesn’t have enough of the above types of songs. Dull in some places and great in not many others, the results are an album that gives no real reason to listeners to draw them to keep coming back. Of course, there are a few tracks that you should hear but even these aren’t strong enough to warrant purchasing this album as for all but the most ardent of Ill Nino fans Till Death, La Familia is far from being a must have in your music collection.
For a new band just getting started, garnering praise from musicians in the industry is a major benefit. More than just a stroking of the ego, these types of recommendations can help to build hype around an artist as fans of the famous admirer take note of what their musical hero is saying. Islander are a band who have been given such praise, with H.R. from punk legends Bad Brains and Sonny Sandoval from nu-metallers P.O.D. lapping up the foursomes brand of alternative rock/metal.
However, just because they like it doesn’t mean everyone will, and when it comes to their debut album, Violence and Destruction (Victory), that certainly rings true.
A mixture of heartfelt lyrics and nu-metal/alt-rock tones, Islander’s first full-length is a grower not a shower, with some tracks neither showing nor really growing. A mixture of the two, opener ‘Counteract,’ an angst-ridden metal affair and ‘The Sadness of Graves,’ an aggressive but melodic track, set a high standard from the off but not everything that follows is cut from the same entertaining cloth. ‘New Wave,’ ‘Count Dracula’ and ‘Cold Speak’ are half-decent almost sombre tracks with sincere lyrics but lack anything to really make them stand out, while songs such as the zealous ‘Side Effects of Youth’ and creative ‘Pains’ show a different, more musically passionate side to the band, a side which is much more entertaining to hear.
Then there’s the nu-metal anthem ‘Criminals,’ which features the aforementioned Sonny Sandoval and sounds like it was taken straight from the 90s, a great track for anyone who into their nu-metal or is looking for some nostalgia to their youth. In the next breath is ‘Mira,’ a very short track that feels pretty much pointless. Finale ‘Violence and Destruction’ however leaves the album going out the way it came in; with an explosive yet harmonious bang, giving you at least a good last memory.
Violence and Destruction is a tale of two halves, one being great and the other being rather unmemorable. If you like your alt-metal with a douse of unpredictability, this album with surely quench that particular thirst, but not always for the right reasons.