Sunday, May 27, 2007

Then You Go Downtown, Home To Skid Row. Feed Me Seymour!

I remember walking through an airport (San Francisco Airport, I believe) sometime around midnight on my way to catch a connecting flight and Skid Row's video for "I Remember You" was blasting on a number of TV's as I journeyed through the halls. I thought that was one the coolest experiences of my life. The airport was deserted, I was tired from my previous flight and here was one of my favourite rock ballads blazing through the PA system. Incredible.

And with that, I thought I'd start my series of hard rock and "hair/glam" metal reviews with my favourite band of the bunch Skid Row. I'm not keen on the label "hair" band, but unfortunately it is what the general population can recognize and relate to. So I apologize to anyone who maybe offended by the term.

Starting with the band's self titled debut, Skid Row began as your standard hard rock sound of the time, though their image and music seemed tougher and more genuine. Theband fit the Skid Row image, especially the unpredictably temperamental frontman Sebastian Bach.

The album kicks off with the hooky and hard "Big Guns" that gets the fist pounding and blood flowing. "Sweet Little Sister", "Piece Of Me" , "Rattle Snake Shake" and "Makin' A Mess" carry on the hard rock bad boy edge and are spread out evenly throughout the album. They are solid hooky and melodic songs with some killer solo's by both Scotti Hill and Dave Sabo. I read somewhere that the solo's were divided between the 2 because one had a more emotional touch and the other a wailer. I can't remember which is which, but it creates a nice balance and both are very talented guitarists.

"Can't Stand The Heartache" and "Here I am" have a slightly more melodic, polished sound but are no less rockin'. The album closer "Midnight/Tornado" has a darker edge with strong melodic undertones and a cool dual solo before breakin' it down with the groove oriented crunchiness of the "Tornado" portion of the song. A good closer.

Sebastian Bach was key to the success of Skid Row in that his voice is brilliantly rough and wailing without losing it's passion. Any other vocalist couldn't compliment the brilliant guitar work of Hill and Sabo and the crushing rhythm section of Rachel Bolan (bass) and Rob Affuso (drums). Especially on the standout tracks (for me) on this album.

The first is "Youth Gone Wild" with its catchy riff and moving solo creating a passionate bleakness of teenage youth. This is only after Skid Row sets the stage with the brilliant ballad "18 And Life". What would otherwise be a cheesy song about a bad kid is brought to emotional life by Bach's killer voice wailing out ~ That child blew a child away!~ and one of the greatest and most moving guitar solo's I've ever heard. It's as if he's soloing on my heartstrings. "I Remember You" is another song , that if left in the wrong hands, would be terribly gitchy. However, Sebastian bellows in a voice of anguished heartache and again another solo that is the musical equivalent of a heart breaking keeps the song strong and passionate. The accompanying video is equally brilliant in it's portrayal of lost love's hopelessness. To choose a favourite of either "18 And Life" or "I Remember You" would be an insult to the other and so both are my favourite tracks for subtle, yet glaring differences.

I also started with Skid Row because I applaud them for not only sticking with their hard rock sound, but for kicking it up a notch on their brilliantly heavy metal follow up "Slave To The Grind".

That's next week.

Monday, May 21, 2007

If Ever I Were To Weep On The Public Transit System ....

This here is my 100th post and I thought to myself ... that's it?!? Man! It's felt like a lot more. Ah well, but what better way to celebrate this milestone then with what clearly will be my number one album of 2007 (If I were to do such a list). Virgin Black's third opus and 1st release of their Requiem Trilogy (the second part of the trilogy though) is a gothic/doom symphonic masterpiece. The absolute most brilliant album I've heard in a long time. It's funny cause this album was released around the same time as Manowar's "God's Of War" which I picked up first and anticipated more, but where Manowar failed in trying to create a compelling blend of metal and orchestration, Virgin Black triumph's!

"Requiem: Mezzo Forte" is not as metal as "Sombre Romantic" nor is it as reflective as "Elegant...And Dying". What it is, however, is a perfect blend of "Sombre Romantic" and "Elegant...And Dying". The Requiem Trilogy will consist of "Requiem: Pianissimo" a fully orchestral album with vocals, "Requiem: Mezzo Forte" a blend of orchestra and band, and finally "Requiem: Fortissimo" just band, and is slated to be heavy then anything the band has done so far.

"Requiem: Mezzo Forte" starts off with the haunting and passionate "Requiem, Kyrie". This is an orchestral piece beginning with solo cello and Susan Johnson's brilliantly emotional soprano reminiscent of Lisa Gerrard of Dead Can Dance. The song builds as the full Adelaide Symphony Orchestra picks up and Rowan London enters in with his mournful wail that has never sounded this sorrowful. When I bought this album, I brought it home and transferred it to the iPod and listened to it on the subway to work. And as this song played on I was nearly driven to tears by the haunting vocals of Susan and mournful voice of Rowan which add such emotional depth to the orchestral sound.

As I dried my eyes "In Death" starts with with Rowan lamenting before a gothic keys and guitars kick in with crushing intensity. The new drummer Luk Faz marches his way through a brooding gothic interlude and dual vocals. The song builds into a metal/symphonic chaos without ever losing focus leading us into "Midnight Hymn" and it's haunting (Bram Stoker's Dracula soundtrack quality) orchestration. This is a remix of "Sombre Romantic"s brutally aggressive "Drink The Midnight Hymn". This is a more sinister and lamenting version far more suited to the album's Requiem Theme".

"... And I am Suffering" is a doom laden sorrow filled lament with passionate performances by Susan Johnson with vocals more passionate then I've heard by a soprano in long time. Also a mournful solo by guitarist Samantha Escarbe. A dark and powerful song.

The Heavenly opening of "Domine" gets crushed by some brutal death metal vocals (akin to early Antestor) the mix is killer. A pummelling riff kicks in underscoring Rowan's mournful wail in one of his most passionate performances since "Sombre Romantics, Museum Of Iscariot". The doom/death mix with the orchestral elements is brutal and powerful. This is my favourite track on the album.

"Lacrimosa (I Am Blind With Weeping)" is a crushing doomy gothic piece letting Samantha shine out again while the Death Choir (as they are called in the liner notes) belt out a melodic requiem-like hymn. The emotion just weeps out of every element on this track. The drums, orchestration, guitars and vocals are instruments of not just music, but passion here.

The album ends with a reprise of "Requiem, Kyrie" called "Rest Eternal". This is more uplifting and bombastic, though the vocals are just as powerful as the first version. The difference mostly is the addition of Samantha's brutal guitars that take the haunting melody into a majestic outro left only with an unsettling violin that taunts us with anticipation for the next 2 releases.

Words can't describe the emotional impact of this album and its utter brilliance. This is an album to be enjoyed by everyone. Everyone.

Up next I'm going to start exploring some hard rock "Hair" metal. It should be fun!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

With Velvet Tongues Comes Sweet Elegance .

Virgin Black's sophomore release sees the band exploring a more reflective sound and experimenting with an orchestral back drop. That doesn't mean they ignore their gothic doom metal style, but it shows some real growth that would eventually lead to the brilliant "Requiem: Mezzo Forte" but that's next week.

"Elegant ... And Dying" is a good album and a stunning accomplishment, but this album seems to get the worst reviews. I believe this is because of the experimental nature and more classical sound. And though the album isn't as brutal, I've come to appreciate the reflective mood and heavy emotions.

The album begins with the brooding gothic piece "Adorned In Ashes" and sets a dark, sad mood for the rest of the album. The doom influence steps up in "Velvet Tongue" after its sinister chanting opening. Rowan's signature mournful wail enhances the doom laden riffwork.

"And The Kiss Of God's Mouth" is a 2 part piece with part one being a beautiful lament reminiscent of Manowar's "Funeral March" (From Triumph Of Steel's epic Achilles saga). However, part 2 is a crushing doomy sorrowful song that weighs on you emotionally heavy. This is my favourite song because of the blend of brutal heaviness and strong passionate emotions.

"Renaissance" is an atmospheric dark and eerie piece that leads into the epic 19+ minute song "The Everlasting". The song features a strong orchestral sense with a very theatrical feel. But it's dark and eerie orchestration much like "Bram Stoker's Dracula" soundtrack and the vocals are mournful and passionate. The guitars kick in around the 10 minute mark and the song takes a heavier tone with Falkenbach style riffing and black metal touches, all the while never straying from it's gothic eeriness.

"Cult Of Crucifixion" continues in the doom/gothic mix with a creepy, dark heaviness. The orchestral accompaniment/mix has a Rhapsody (Of Fire) feel just bleaker and more theatrical. "Beloved" is a lamenting sorrowful doom metal song intermixed with some black metal vocals and the album closer "Our Wings Are Burning" is a reflective, melodic piece.

This album has a far grander sound then "Sombre Romantic". I prefer the more metal sound on "Sombre Romantic", but I love the overall feel of "Elegant ... And Dying". "Elegant ... And Dying" was essential for Virgin Black to make the transition to their ambitious "Requiem" trilogy in which the first release will be reviewed next week "Requiem: Mezzo Forte" and let me just tell you this is a brilliant album.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

An Anomalous Harmony Between The Juxtapositions Of Purity And Humanity's Darkness

Virgin Black is an Australian gothic metal band with hints of black and doom metal and heavy on the orchestral front. These guys have carved out a powerful and unique style of music. One can compare the music to that of soundtrack quality in that it is emotional and epic and vivid.

I'll start with the bands 3 song EP "Trance" which my copy came as a bonus track with 2002's "Sombre Romantic". "Trance" is far more goth influenced and lacks some of the epic orchestrations that would follow. It's not bad, I love the sorrowness and industrial-like riff work. I find this is an album that knows what it is and where it will go. "Opera De Trance" has a technoy goth beat and some killer guitar riffs with a black metally whisper. Rowan's signature mournful vocals shine through, though not quite peak form. "A Saint Is Weeping" again has the technoy goth beat and has a harder edge with some nice passionate guitar solos leaving us feeling uplifted.

The track I like best is the epic album closer "Whispers Of Dead Sisters: I Sadness, II Angst, III Reflection". This has the signature sound that would become prominent on their follow up. It has the brooding mournful opening leading into some heavy freaking riffs, heartfelt soloing and some chaotic metal before a sombre outro. A fine song and a fine lead in to their full length debut.

"Sombre Romantic" is a goth metal masterpiece. Opening with the mournful cello and gregorian vocals of "Opera De Romanci - Stare" creates a lamenting feel and Rowan London's vocals begin to shine. This blends seamlessly into "Opera De Romanci - Embrace" which has a crushing opening riff blended with choral vocals and percussion bells creating a wonderful anticipating feeling, ending with a guitar riff that feels like it lingers. This is followed by the brooding technoy beats of "Walk Without Limbs". This song is "Trance EP" like but with more influence of the full mournful dark sound.

After the opening 3 tracks we get treated to a lamenting number in "Of Your Beauty" with depressing piano and deep sad vocals. It is a haunting song and painful. The rage comes out on "Drink The Midnight Hymn" which is dark and heavy with black metal intensity and full orchestral elements and vocals. A sinister and bleakly mournful song.

The album peaks with the ever mournful lamentation of "Museum Of Iscariot" which is painfully beautiful and Rowan's vocals are brilliant. He reeks of sorrow and emotion. His range is incredible and I've never heard a voice more mournful than his. The acoustic picking simplicity is great and the accompanying solo is heartfelt and powerful. The song transitions into a hopeful bleakness of one who has reached their end. A truly brilliant song with disturbing imagery and my favourite track on the album.

"Lamenting Kiss" is a brooding, heavy and dark piece of gothic metal leading into the doomy "Weep for Me". "Weep..." is bombastic and sorrowful both vocally and with guitars. "I Sleep With The Emperor" begins with Rowan's a capella lament before brutalizing us with a black/death metal onslaught. It has an ambient, doomy reprise of "Opera De Romanci - Embrace" which is a fitting reminder of the mournful opening before leading us into the lamenting hurt of "A Poet's Tears Of Porcelain". This song, along the lines of "Museum Of Iscariot", is mournful and passionate with emotional performances by violins/cello's and guitars while creating a huge epic sound. A beautiful sadness and I say ...

... Amen.

Virgin Black are one of the more original and daring bands out there today. And as I said earlier, Rowan's voice is beautifully painful. One of the greatest vocalists I've heard ever. I hold him up to the likes of Colm Wilkinson of voice's that truly move me. Virgin Black though not labelled Christian (due to professed malcontent with the Church) have a vivid spiritualness that's mournful and beautiful and deeply powerful.

Stay tuned for next week's review of "Elegent ... And Dying".