Sunday, May 28, 2006

Listen All Of Y'all, It's A Savatage!

Savatage is my favourite band. There I said it. It's tough to really narrow it down especially with such the wide variety of musical stylings I listen to, but if I really had to choose, I would say Savatage. They have had a strong career and have grown as musicians and as a band. They have survived through a number of high and low points while sticking to their guns and creating albums they want to make.

The Album I'm reviewing today is "Edge of Thorns" which is the first Savatage album I bought. My curiousity was peaked by 2 brothers I went to Highschool with who were huge fans of the band. I was not to be disappointed. Edge... is a great album and though it is not a "concept", it still carries the progressive influence started on "Gutter Bullet". Sadly this would be the last album recorded by Criss Olivia
(killed in a car accident by a drunk driver) the lead guitarist and brother to other founding member Jon Olivia. However, Criss did not go gentle into that good night. "Edge of Thorns" features some brilliant guitar work. This album is also the debut for new vocalist Zachary Stevens. Zak had some big shoes to fill, stepping in to replace Jon (the mountain king) Olivia, but fill them he did. Zak is one of the finest metal vocalists out there and I attribute him to helping bring Savatage a more progressive sound. His crisp melodic vocals are a fine contrast to Jon's raspier/darker style and it's brilliant when both are featured on albums (Dead Winter Dead and Wake of Magellen).

The first song and title track sets the mood for the album with its piano intro and majestic sound. "He Carves His Stone" has an early Savatage feel musically and Zach really shines on this track. Very powerful. Criss's solo work is also quite nice on these tracks and throughout the album. The solo's are complex, yet written for the song. They are there to enhance the tune, not to impress other guitarists and I think that's why Savatage was so special.

There are 2 instrumentals and if there were ever song titles that fit instrumental songs, these are it. "labyrinths" is a guitar driven tune which has the feeling of someone searching and becoming more panicked and anxious, before the song trails off. "Exit Music" is a beautiful piano piece which is appropriately fitting for simply leaving a room or leaving this world.

"Degrees Of Sanity", "Conversation Piece" and "Damien" are all fine examples of progressive power metal tunes, each uniquely emphasizing heavy guitar riffs and piano/acoustic guitar mixes. "Conversation Piece" features some clever lyrics which could be discussed over a cup of tea (heehee).

"All that I bleed" brings out the passion in Zaks Vocals which blend sweetly with the piano. "Miles Away" picks up the pace after a couple of slower heavy tunes with very catchy riffwork.

The 2 tracks I like the most are "Sleep" which is a great acoustic guitar tune with a nice bluesy outro (and is the only Savatage song I can kinda play sort of all the way through!) and "Follow Me". "Follow Me" is my favourite track. It's led into by "labyrinths". The tune features some very passionate and powerful vocals by Zachary and some great guitar work by Chriss (especially the intro picking riff which picks up as "labyrinths" ends).

"Edge Of Thorns" features some great Savatage songs and shows some real growth for the band.
I myself love the progressive power metal route they would take after this album and is surely an influence by key songwriter Jon Olivia and producer Paul O'Neill. However, I can't help but wonder what Savatage would be doing or sound like if Criss Olivia were still with them. He was a fine musician.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Unleash The Hellig Usvart Horde!

Horde opened the doors for Christian Extreme Metal. This one man
project by none other than Ex-Mortification and Paramaecium drummer
Jayson Sherlocke, a.k.a. Anonymous (which is believed to be a word play
on the Mayhem band member Euronymous, who was murdered by his friend &
bandmate. Think about that.) Inverted the flourishing Black metal scene
with the release of "Hellig Usvart" on Nuclear Blast records. Disguised as a
Norwegian black metal musician, Jayson blasted into the scene with a
sickenly brutal and raw black metal album to rave reviews.... oh except
for the whole anti-satan Christian lyrics ... but musically it was well
received. I love reading reviews of this album on metal sites. It's
always the same "Do not be fooled! This is a Christian band! oh sure
the music is good, but he sings about God! Do not buy this anti-satan
crap!" I'm paraphrasing, but it's absolutely hilarious. I mean how could you not tell something was different with song titles like "Invert the Inverted
Cross" and "Weak, Feeble, Dying Anti-Christ". Heck "Hellig Usvart" is
Norwegian for Holy Unblack which originated the genre Unblack Metal.
Nuclear Blast records (Mark Staiger) and that "Anonymous" guy received numerous
death threats and sternly written letters, which lead to Steve Rowe
(Mortification) buying the rights and remaining albums to distribute
through Rowe Productions.

"Hellig Usvart" begins with the appropriately named track "A Church
Bell Tolls Amidst the Frozen Nordic Winds" which is a Church bell
tolling amidst a chilly wind sound. Normally I don't like these ambient
tracks, but this certainly sets the mood for the album. As the breeze
fades out we are blasted by the disgustingly fast 50 second song
"Blasphemous Abomination of The Satanic Pentagram". This is raw and
brutal music which is not for everyone. I love it! Most songs are fast
with slower bits or bridges like "Behold, The Rising of The Scarlet
Moon" and "An Abandoned Grave Bathes Softly In The Falling Moonlight".

"Thine Hour Has Come", "Invert The Inverted Cross" and "Weak, Feeble,
Dying Anti-Christ" all have more mid paced black metal riffs. Stand-out
tracks are "Silence The Blasphemous Chanting" which has a nice acoustic
outro, "Release and Clothe The Virgin Sacrifice" has a great dark
guitar riff amidst the blistering chaos of the song. I prefer the more
gruff death metal vocals featured on songs "Silence The Blasphemous
Chanting", "Crush The Bloodied Horns Of The Goat" and "Release and
Clothe the Virgin Sacrifice" as opposed to the screeching vocals, but
not enough to really mention it here. Ooops. Anywho, I think my
favourite track would be the bonus song on the 10th Anniversary
re-release "My Heart Doth Beseech Thee (O Master)". This is an insanely
fast song and pure raw black metal. It also features the only guitar
solo on the album. Mind you it's rough and not necessarily good, but
it's fast and a solo all the same. And "My Heart ..." also features
cowbell percussion and in my opinion you can't have too much cowbell.

This album may be nothing new in the Black metal genre musically
speaking, but Jayson paved the way for Christian Black Metal and in my
opinion humbled the pretentious "We're so evil" black metal scene.
"Hellig Usvart" may not be an outstanding piece of work (the drum work is insane though, incredible!)but the albums influence is seen in such Christian Acts as Antestor, Crimson Moonlight
and Dark Endless to name just a few.

I have tons more Christian metal to review, but I've been itchin' to
post some Savatage and Dream Theatre, so keep checkin' in and I'll
surprise you with one or the other. I hope you all can get some sleep
despite your anxiousness and excitement!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

They're Simply Notes Put Together In Bars

Tourniquet is a Christian thrash band who have been around a long while. The album I'm reviewing today has a more power metal feel, but don't worry, the thrash is still there. "Microscopic View Of A Telescopic Realm" is a great and diverse album. Where Tourniquet originated as fast thrash, they've now grown, but still managed to keep the fast thrash feel, only the songs are more complex.

The album starts off with Megadeth like riffing and fires into some good Tourniquet thrash. "Besprinkled In Scarlet Horror" blasts the listener about the flak Tourniquet and other Christian bands like them have received because the music is heavy metal. The band hammers it home lyrically with this song, the words are thought provoking and honest. And I agree. Who said God's praise can only be sung through hymns by church choirs accompanied by an old person tinkling on a pipe organ who almost knows how to play and only hitting wrong notes 40% of the time? God's praise comes from the heart. Everybody knows that and I always laugh when I hear that criticism like this actually happens. Mortification, Living Sacrifice, Tourniquet and many other Christian metal bands sing God's praise with equal if not more passion than any number of gospel/hymn choirs. I'll hold Exousia's "Extreme Love" up against anything Jars Of Clay have done (which, mind you, I'll be reviewing one of theirs at a later date). Whew, that said, the opener pulls you in nicely as well as featuring a flute solo which also appears in "Immunity Vector".

The whole album just rocks, but stand outs are the title track which blasts into you with an sensation of urgency almost like the song is ending before it starts. It works. "Erratic Palpitations of the Human Spirit" is another throw back to early Tourny and I love the narrative style verses.

Along with flute, other power metal influences appear "The Skeezix Dilemma Pt.II (The Improbable Testimony of the Pipsisewah)" with its folk like guitar work and doomy violin solo adds another level to this very Megadeth like song. And the sick goat sounds midway through add a real eeriness to it.

My favourite track is "Servant Of The Bones". It's a solid thrash tune with a great sing along chorus: "Burn me once, shame on you, Burn me twice, shame on me. You'll never get that close, not while I serve the Bones." Beautiful!

I'm going to branch out again, before continuing with more Christian Metal bands, but before I do I want to review Horde. This is a one man "Anonymous" project by a guy whose explored a wide variety of extreme metal.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

An Unnatural Concept ... And it's Immaculate.

Paramaecium is a damn good doom/death metal band and one of my all around favourite groups. "Exhumed Of The Earth" is their first full length release and is more death than doom. The future releases use less death growls and more tenor like clean male vocals and this increases the doom feel.

The album starts off with ... yes ... the 17 minute epic "The Unnatural Conception: The Birth and Massacre of the Innocence" which tells of Christ's birth and Herod's attempt to kill the new born king. After a short soprano vocal intro by Rosemary Sutton which powers into a heavy chunky guitar riff which goes on for about 4 minutes with a little operatic vocals interspersed (I'll love the operatic vocals and good chunky guitars and Paramaecium is a master at it). Then comes in the death metal growls which are a little more distorted than future releases, but still enjoyable. Andrew Tompkins
vocals have a sort of gurgly feel to them which makes his voice unique and recognizable. Here the guitars carry a doomy feel. Then there is a bridge which brings back the female vocals and a violin solo that gives the tune a real eeriness. We hear a baby crying amongst the music and the song takes on a kind of lamenting lullaby sound. Although the song is 17 min. it grabs from the beginning and holds you throughout.

"Injudicial" and "Untombed" speed things up a bit, but still retain their slow doomy riffs. "Injudicial" has a nice death metal riff as well. "The Killing" slows down into a dark and doomy mood and incorporates a nice flute solo. "The voyage of the Severed" is sludgy but ends with an uplifting guitar solo.

The last 2 tracks give us a glimpse of where Paramaecium is heading. "Heamorrhage Of Hatred" is diverse in tempo and enhances the doom feel with clean male vocals. This trend continues to the last song "Removed Of The Grave" though the clean vocals are female tenor like and almost spoken. A very nice sound. This song also begins with an acoustic intro that brings a doomy folk sound that is nice.

Paramaecium are epic in their song writing and thought provoking with their lyrics. All I can say is this is great Doom/Death Metal. Both dark and uplifting. Next I'll review the Christian Thrash band Tourniquet who garnered quite a following. And why not. They are great. Up next ... "Microscopic View Of A Telescopic Realm"

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Noah Sat Down And Had A Coffee

Mortification put Christian death metal on the map and opened the doors for a wide variety of extreme Christian metal. Steve Rowe's production company, Rowe Productions, is responsible for helping out a number of bands as well. Mortification blends thrash, Death Metal, elements of Hardcore, and Grindcore into a musical catalogue more diverse than Suicidal Tendencies.

The album I'll review first is "EnVision Evangeline". This album was recorded during the more thrashy era and carries a lot of influence from ManOwar, most notably the bass guitar. In fact it's a mix of ManOwar and Sepultura. "Envision..." has a lot of melody and some very memorable songs. Starting off with the epic 18 minute title track that ease's
us in with a catchy uplifting signature riff that carries through the song. Though it is long "Envision Evangeline" doesn't get boring. There are some good thrashy elements and classical bits to give the song diversity and that epic feel.

The rest of the album follows the same pattern of good melodic thrash and catchy hooks. "Northern Storm" and "Crusade For The King" are headbanger's with good thrash rhythm. "Jehovah Nissi" is Triumphant in its call to arms feel and "Chapel Of Hope" is as close to a thrash ballad as one might get with it's inspiring feel.

The heaviest track is "Buried Into Obscurity" which comes close to Mortifications death metal roots. But my favourite track has got to be "Noah Was A Knower" which is a fast thrash tune. Though not as melodic, it is a great sing a long song. How could you not belt out lines like "40 Days and 40 Nights. Smelly Animals all around." and "100 years of real hard work, Noah sat down and had a coffee." I've always thought it would be neat to do metal songs around stories in the Bible and Mortification does just that.

Though I tend to lean towards Mortifications death metal stylings, I have to admit "Envision Evangeline" is a very good album and one I look forward to listening too.
Next I'll be reviewing a band high on my list of good christian metal and they are Paramaecium, a doom/death metal outfit that is fantastic. So up next will be "Exhumed Of The Earth".

Monday, May 08, 2006

Born Again Metalhead ...

Living Sacrifice is a heavy freakin' band. There I said it, it's out there and I stand by my statement. If you are into extreme metal or metalcore no matter your beliefs, you should be listening to Living Sacrifice. They have had a consistent career of great music. Discovered by Kurt Bachman of Believer fame who in turn got them a record contract, Living Sacrifice have re-iterated what Believer and others started, and that is smashing the image that Christian Music is boring. I want to start off with a review of "In Memoriam" which is not so much a greatest hits, but a collection of songs that showcase their 13 year career as well as 3 killer new tunes!

The album blasts into you with the 3 new tracks starting with "In Christ" which is my favourite track. It is heavy with a wicked riff and lyrics that are unashamed and defiant. The tune hits you as a reminder that L.S. are Christian and can still blow your speakers even after a 3 year hiatus. "The Power of God" continues that boldness with its melodic death metal feel, and "Killers" rounds out the new tracks with a fast sweet riff.

"Symbiotic" and "In the Shadow" are fine examples of Slayer like thrash, fast with wailing solo's. At one point in their career the vocals got a bit too muffled, like they were singing and inhaling at the same time, as if they weren't getting enough oxygen, and the vocals lost a lot of their melody. This can heard on "Breathing Murder", "In The Shadow" and especially "Distorted" and"Haven Of Blasphemy". Mind you these are freakin' killer tunes, but the vocals can be a little distracting. However, if look at it with a positive angle it does give the tunes a darker edge.

Living Sacrifice are an extreme metal band, I would even say death metal, but they land in the metalcore category. "Bloodwork", "Local Vengeance Killing" and "In Christ" are fine examples and I tend to like this style more. I'm a slow and chunky kind of metal head.

"Obstruction" is another great thrash influenced tune with mid paced riff work that'll get any head banging. The stand out track (next to "In Christ") is "Enthroned '98". This song blasts into you with blistering force before slowing it down and pounding you with a heavy riff that would make any faltering metalhead renounce their post-hardcore leanings and be born again!

"In Memoriam" is a fine example of an outstanding metal career and reminder that Christians know how to rock!

No Christian metalhead's collection is complete without some Mortification. If you are Christian and like music (any style) then you are bound to have at least heard of Steve Rowe and Mortification. They did for extreme metal what Stryper did for heavy metal. Up next ..... "Envision Evangeline"

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Give Me Something To Believe In ....

Back in highschool, there was an independent record store called Looney Tunes that used to carry a free metal mag called M.E.A.T. This was a great magazine for anyone who loves metal. It was this magazine that I would read to keep up on bands like Savatage and Dream Theatre and such, and it was MEAT where I discovered Carcass (the band ... just to be clear...). It was also in MEAT that I read a decent review of a Christian thrash band called Believer.

At this point in my life, I was listening to progressive metal and heavy metal, nothing to crazy. So when I read about Believer I was like, wow, there is Christian metal!?! As I've said before, I'm not really into the evil stuff and I feel strongly about my personal spiritual beliefs, so this opened a new door for me. However, I didn't find the key to that door till 10-12 years later. I couldn't find that album anywhere. I think I might have seen another of Believer's albums at the HMV superstore, but I didn't know if it was or not and once I figured it might be, it was gone.

Then I discovered Kazaa. Shareware for the "free" exchange of music and such. One day I thought back to that review and decided to give Kazaa a shot and there it was! A number of Believer songs popped up. This is when I discovered BNR Metal Pages, No Life Till Metal and Christian Punk Reviews websites. It was one thing to have these songs available on Kazaa, but were they Believer songs? I had no track list or anything. Thank God for the web pages listed above. Not only did I get track listings for Believer's albums, I discovered a world of Christian heavy/extreme metal.

Much to my wife's dismay, I spent hours searching for this slew of new bands on Kazaa. I did feel kinda bad about stealing Christian music, but in my defense, I couldn't find it anywhere to purchase it. I eventually stumbled upon Blastbeats and Facedown records where I then purchased a number of albums I had downloaded, including Believer's "Dimensions" album which was re-released in 2005 and I will now review.

MEAT mag said that "Dimensions" was thrash death metal, but I wouldn't go so far as to say death metal. The vocals are gruff and strained (In a good way), but definitely thrashy. This is Believer's third album, and you can hear the growth and experimentation in the music. Believer is good thrash band and "Dimensions" shows that not only can they play thrash, they can play with style. Believer's thrash sound is present (sorta like Death Angel), but they play with funny time signatures and have a more progressive sound (a couple of members went on to form the progressive metal band Fountain Of Tears which is exactly where Believer was headed if they had continued). "Singularity" and "No Apology" are straight out thrash, the former a little slower paced. My favourite track is "What Is But Cannot Be" which has some good riffing and I love the "falling?" vocal effect they use a couple of times. My beef with this tune is the long intro. It's just sort of a windy noise for like a minute before the song, I've never been a big fan of that. "Dimentia" is a unique tune in that Believer uses sound bites of people as part of the vocals (usually critizing Christian belief's and the existence of God)and they sing the chorus making this tune "debatable" hee,hee .... good tune as well.

The stand out performance on "Dimensions" is the song "Trilogy Of Knowledge" which is broken up into 4 parts that tells the story of Christ. This classical influence piece of Thrash ... (I said THrash ...) is brilliant! Beginning with the ambient noise of "The Birth" Trilogy blends mid paced thrashed with strings and female operactic vocals. "Movement I : The Lie" speeds into an emotional rollicking mix of guitar and string section and opera. "Movement II: The Truth" is a heart wrenching piece that bridges thrash and progressive metal (and my favourite part!). "Movement III: The Key" gets eerie with its operatic female vocals and sporadic riffing and fades out in a gargle of noise. It truly is an epic work of musical art.

My copy of "Dimensions" includes 3 bonus live tracks that are terrible, and were not approved by the band. The quality is reminiscent of Death Angel's live album "Fall from Grace" (again released against the bands wishes). These were unnecessary additions.

Up next I'll review Living Sacrifice's "In memoriam". Not so much a greatest hits album, but a reflection on one heavy freakin' metal career.

Atlantis is Found !

Atrocity has returned. I don't mean that they've really gone anywhere, I don't know, but from what I've read their new album "Atlantis" is a return to the Death Metal roots. The band had experimented with a German New wave sound going so far as to do an 80's pop song cover album (Werk 80, not reviewed) . What I hear (not ever being exposed to earlier Atrocity) is a great blend of Death and Gothic Metal. This is a great album and I have to admit it threw me to hear such brutality for such a mythical topic as Atlantis.

The album blasts into you with "Reich Of Phenomena" and I'm thinking Atlanteans kick ass! And it is a non stop assault till the end. "Clash Of The Titans" has one of the best Death metal intros I've heard in a long time
. Blistering guitars and Death growls and screeches that just shred into you before it melts into an operatic/goth ending that leads into "Apocalypse" which reminds us that this is a Death Metal album at its core.

This is a concept album about the rise and fall of Atlantis and is meant to be listened to as whole. Songs like "Aeon" are gothy and chant like that help transition songs and story. I mention this because, though being a concept album, Atrocity included a radio single. Wanna know how I can tell? Cause you can't miss it! "Cold Black Days" does not have the raw edge and Death/goth metal feel of the rest of the album. It is straight goth metal tune which would not be out of place at "The Vatican", "Savage Garden" or even "Velvet Underground" (Goth bars case you're wondering). This track was slickly packaged and tossed into the middle of the album and it stands out like a sore thumb!

Now before I get thousands of emails saying that it's a great song .... (I only wish thousands read this ... Hey Carl, *DeathHead*.... Martini .... Rockerchick ... thanx for reading!) I do think this is a great song and would even go so far as to say it was my favourite off the album.
I love the dual guitar/clean vocals pre chorus harmonics ... it's fantastic. I just think it doesn't necessarily fit with the whole package.

But speaking of whole package, let me just say WOW! I'll give the band kudos for great album packaging. Not only is there a video for "Cold Black Days" but there is a huge multi-media set-up that gives English translation of the lyrics (the songs and booklet lyrics appear to be written in Atlantean ...?) as well as background information on their research behind the concept. Pretty neat. And you can play the music while reading along about each track. I've gotten through about half the album so far. All in all "Atlantis" is a great album and I can't get enough of the bombastic assault. I highly recommend this one.

Now I've dwelled on how I came into Heavy/extreme metal, and about the fantasy aspect I liked, but I want to review some of the Christian heavy Metal that I've discovered (and wow there is a lot) starting the album that first got me thinking about this genre. Believer's "Dimensions". It all began with a review I read in M.E.A.T. magazine back in highschool...