Album Review: DevilDriver – Trust No One

Let‘s get to this straight away – this album fucking rips. I know “rips” is a cliched word in metal, but I honestly cannot think of a better descriptor for this thing. Rips is just what it does, and it does it well.

I’ve loved DD since the beginning. Actually, I still think their 1st album is probably my favorite of their whole catalog. There, I said it. Anyway, that was a long time ago (eeesh, I’m old) and not what I am here to talk about. DD solidified their sound straight away with their amazing 2nd album and have since not deviated much from it. Sure they went a little this way and that, but when a new DD album came out, you knew what you were getting into. Not a bad thing, but after albums 6 great albums, they were starting to get a little stale. OK, 5 great albums and whatever the hell Pray for Villains was. Ick. Back on track, they were getting a bit samey.

Then Dez announces Coal Chamber is coming back around and DD is going on hiatus. Good thing, I say. It will give them time to really refine the music and not be rushed, maybe take a few chances. Then founding drummer John Boecklin and guitarist Mike Spreitzer quit. The horror!!! One of the best metal drummers out there, who had been there from the beginning, and the guitarist that came in on their direction defining second album are gone. Uh oh … or is it? No! New blood and a bit of extra time was exactly what DD needed.

This album is DD hitting on all cylinders. For the whole album. There is not a dud on this sucker. All of the songs are really solid and have some individual identity. Yes, sometimes the relentless onslaught of ass-kickery can be a bit much, and I wish they could open it up a bit from time to time, but this is why we love Devildriver, isn’t it? I don’t want a soft song mind you, just a bit more spaciousness and to make sure each song stands a bit more apart from one another. Wax and wane a little, build and tear down.

New guitarist Neil Tiemann really ups the melodic content on this release. I mean, just listen to that epic lead on For What Its Worth or the shred-tastic ending of This Deception. I’m not sure if he wrote either one of those, but I don’t care, previous DD albums have never had leads that memorable. That was actually one of the things that always bugged me a bit about them. Many of the leads, while technically competent, just didn’t “fit” right. They always sounded off somehow, either melodically or rhythmically. No longer. They fit like a … thing that fits really, really well.

Oh, Austin D’Amond, you have some mighty big shoes to fill. Good thing you have big-ass feet. He absolutely owns his drum parts on this album. He fits right in. Though I will say he almost fits in too well sometimes. He can play like a maniac, and he knows how to work the ebb and flow of a song, I just think he may have held back a bit because he was either afraid to or directed to not deviate too far from the standard DD sound. I hope he gets a bit more leeway on the next album to really shine, because its obvious he can. Let ‘er rip man.

OK, lets check out the sound of the album for a bit. It has Mark Lewis written all over it. Articulation, space, and definition destroying overly loud mush. He’s one of the reasons this album is hard to listen to all the way through. You just get tired. I mean, his sounds are usually good, but everything is just a flat wall of noise. I’m a fan of the drum sounds he did with Coal Chamber and his very fist album with Whitechapel, but that is about it. His vocal production on this album is off a bit too. Its really bland and doesn’t live up to the rest of the instruments. Also, holy crap is that snare sound on this album one of the absolute worst things I have ever heard. It literally sounds like someone smacking a cheap closet door with a dead fish, and its SUPER loud in the mix.

Let me finish this review here. Sure, it still sounds like DD. But it sounds like DD giving a shit. I would say this is their best album since Last Kind Words. Its pretty straightforward – If you like DD and wanted to know what they sounded like with a much higher melody content and renewed energy, this is the album you’ve been waiting for. If that doesn’t sound like what you want, then this won’t do anything for you or change your mind about them. I can’t call it a classic, because its just not there, but its damn good to hear Devildriver refreshed and invigorated.

Album Review: DevilDriver – Trust No One

Album Review: Dawn of Ashes – Theophany

This is the most fun album I have heard in a long time. Now I know what you are thinking “How can a harsh EBM/black metal album be fun!?!? I think you mean nihilistic and grimmmmmmmmmmm.” Nope. This album is jut a hell of a lot of fun to jam out to.

Now, right away some people are probably gonna get all pissy and say I have my sub-sub-sub-genre labels wrong by calling this Harsh EBM(No! it Aggrotech, No! its Industrial!) and Black Metal (No! Its really more blackened deathcore. No! Its symphonic groove metal!) Shut up, no one gives a shit. I call it Fucking Awesome.

The genre mashup, which in metal is nothing new, going on here is just bang on. It bounces effortlessly between metal and electronic, while retaining some of the best parts of each. Yes, it does get a bit too far up its own ass once in a while with the whole “Oooh I’m SO EEEVVIIIILLLL BLEeerRRRCCH!” but the overall package is so ridiculously over the top and fantastic, I can forgive a little pretentiousness. Plus, lets face it, that is a huge part of anything remotely involving the genres on display here.

The not-quite-title-track Equilibrium is a perfect example of how the sounds of this album meld. It starts off with a heavy bass synth and distorted kick underneath a single note guitar riff that is rhythmically doubled up with the “live” drum kit, busting into furious of double kick meets synth verse. Then some choral parts crop up as the drums and guitars back off, it builds up to repeat a similar cycle…then it just drops (after an absolutely throat ripping scream) to the dirtiest and most evil synth break and build ever. You can’t help but get ready to freak out in the pit.

This album manages to keep the main ideas for each section of each song as the focal point. That’s a tough thing to do for any band, but especially when you are blending the types on instruments and genres DoA do on this album. I mean, in one genre, the big, simple driving kick and synth lines are always the forefront, while in the other, its primarily either the nasty guitars or blast beats.  Groovy, rhythmic “-core” patterns on the drums also frequently carry weight. Here, they realize which idea is central at any given time and don’t try to overshadow, but support it. Its great writing.

As for sound, its solid. I feel like this album was one of those where large mix adjustments were made during the mastering process to compensate for the overabundance of compression to get to the desired volume. Something like “Oh man, when we master it nice and loud, the drums get buried. Ok, then lets just go back to the mix and crank the drums!” No. NO! That is not how you do it. When you do things like that to a mix (which I’m sure was really good at first) you screw the balance of everything up. You can hear the compression pumping on this sucker. Just eating and releasing frequency bands and entire instrument sections. Its not as bad as the older Fleshgod Apocalypse albums mind you, as this is still completely listenable, but its pretty audible.

I only have two minor gripes about the album, and they seem to be intertwined. One, the album is maybe a track short. Now, I will take an awesome 35min album over a bloated album with 4 crap tracks any day, so its not a big deal, but its so good I really WANTED one more song! I guess that makes it my problem then. Oh well.  Also, since the album essentially ends and then the NIN cover comes on, it seems like they realized they could use another track and whipped that cover up. But that leads me to my second small issue, that cover is absolutely terrible. The track feels really barren and sparse (read as “rushed”) compared to the rest of the album, and Kristof just doesn’t have the vocal chops to do that track justice. His vocals work great on the rest of the album, so I’m not saying he’s a bad vocalist at all, its just that maybe NIN was not the best choice. Its just not really his bailiwick.

I really love this album. Its groovy, heavy, danceable, moshable, memorable, and epic. I think this album could really appeal to a lot of different genre fans. Well as long as they have open minds and aren’t snobs about it anyway. It has a lot of everything and miraculously manages to put it all together in a way that succeeds. And it not only succeeds, it thrives.

Go check it out!

Album Review: Dawn of Ashes – Theophany

Album Review: Fallujah – Dreamless

Being wrong is often a good thing. For instance, the first time I listened to this album, I thought it was simply The Flesh Prevails v1.5. Nope. This album is much better written and far more mature. It may be an evolution instead of a revolution, but its still a much bigger step than it appears at first blush.

The major thing that jumps out after a few listens is that the arrangements and riffs are much more coherent and link together much more tightly than they did on Flesh. The melodic through lines are easier to pick out and follow. Granted, many of them are still a bit similar, but the interplay between the rhythm and lead instruments is leagues better this time around. It really feels like they managed to mesh the melodic ideas. On Flesh, it felt more like the tech-death elements and the atmospheric elements were written separately and merged after the fact. It was still cool, but it didn’t feel as though it quite fit. On Dreamless, the two pieces of the puzzle lock together much better.

At least that is the case with the melodic instruments. My god the drumming on this albums sucks. Sure, its clean and fast….but that’s it. The drums on this entire album basically boil down to: On, Off, or Random Accents. It sounds like a drum machine doing George Kollias in the same way it would sound to have a text to speech program give a speech from a famous orator like Lincoln or King Jr. With music this dynamic, the drummer really needs to step it up a notch. There are things called “groove” and “feel” or, hell, even basic rudiments, that could spice things up. If the drummer incorporated a more diverse skill set, the music this band could write would be mind boggling. He’s obviously got the chops to do it, so I sincerely hope he expands both his rhythmic and dynamic repertoire in the future.

I am all for the clean vocals added on this album, both male and female. They really fit in well and add another fantastic dimension to Fallujah’s sound. The screamed vocals work well too, but I do wish the vocalist would do a few more rythmic parts in addition to the extended held screams. I feel like that would open up certain sections, and if used sparingly like the clean vocals, add another great tool to this bands kit.

The sound of this album is much improved over Flesh. Its still loud as hell, but everything sounds much more balanced and clear. The insane high end push from the last album is gone as well, lending a much more natural sound to the overall mix, which is much appreciated. The use of wide open ethereal spaces juxtaposed with very dry and in-your-face sounds works well with the type of music on display here and all of the individual pieces shine though when required.

Overall, this ablum also flows really well from track to track. The ebbs and flows within each song also feel very well paced. Whenever you feel like you can’t take any more intensity, the album gives you a respite with a track like Dreamless or Filedio, with the reverse also being true. And when this album hits, it hits hard. There are points, especially during the crescendo (and yes I believe this album as a whole is arranged purposefully enough to use that term). The only misstep I feel in this area is Les Silences, which I think goes on about twice as long as it needed to. That track just didn’t really go anywhere or payoff well enough to warrant its length.

This is a fantastic album from Fallujah, even if it falls a bit short of the earth-shattering greatness a lot of people, including myself, were hoping for. Fallujah break some new ground on this release with more lucid arrangements and the addition of clean vocals, so I hope they gain some new fans for their efforts. This is a young band that I really feel is still on their creative upswing and while I can’t wait to hear what they think of and where they go next, I am perfectly content to listen to this album until then.

Album Review: Fallujah – Dreamless

Album Review: Filter – Crazy Eyes

As a lifelong Filter fan, I really wanted to love this album. However, I just don’t find it that engaging. It’s definitely not a bad album, its just not all it could be. My first time through, I was super excited to listen again and get into it. That feeling faded ridiculously fast, however. To give a in-a-nutshell type of summary before I dive in further: it kinda sounds like a good remix album of what were once better songs.

OK, let me get my complaints out of the way first. A lot of this album seems to equate intensity with simple volume fluctuations. “Hey, I bet this mediocre riff would sound way heavier if we put near silence before it hits. Right?” It’s like a horror movie that relies solely on jump scares. Its a great thrill at first, but it kills any reason to go back because it lacks depth.

A lot of the energy feels feigned. I really think Richard Patrick wanted to write a radio album more along the lines of Title of the Record or Trouble with Angles but instead felt compelled to try and recapture that Short Bus vibe. That’s not to say there aren’t any good moments on this album, there are quite a few, just not enough, or any entire songs.

Songs like The City of Blinding Riots just fall flat for me. The opener, Mother E, is a great example of what I feel like they were trying to do with this album, but it still feels more like a single great idea that was overproduced/overextended into a full song. The real standout song on the album is Welcome to the Suck. Its one of the few tracks where it sounds like Richard is genuinely emotionally invested. Most of the rest of the songs have great bits, but just fail to live up to what they could have been. Something like Take me to Heaven doesn’t really gel until the last 30 seconds. When the guitar solo comes in, it gets a fantastic arena rock, almost Guns’N Roses-type vibe that the rest of the track really could have used. Another example of a nearly great track is Tremors. You really expect the chorus to just go all out with crazy guitar rock, but it stays restrained and gets synth-y. It really works well. Too bad the rest of the track sounds half baked.

Side note – good golly the drums on this album are boring as hell. Seriously, they are like AC/DC boring. WTF?

One of the things I absolutely love Love LOVE about this album is the sound. The tones, the mix, the balance, the synths, the bass guitars especially, all of them sound fantastic. Its got a great balance between liveliness and clarity. Its just an awesome album to crank up.

Ok, lets wrap it up. I really like Filter in one of two ways – dirty, rough sounding, and immediate (Short Bus, live shows) or way overproduced and intricate (Title, Angels, Amalgamut). Amalgamut is actually my favorite album. This album (and the last album, When the Sun…) tries to combine the two and doesn’t quite get it. I think they wanted to do a whole album kinda like Trip Like I Do and it just didn’t have that magic. I do love that Filter changes their sound quite a bit between albums. A bit like Manson in that regard. But also like Manson, you are gonna get some duds when you work like that. I really hope the next album is just dirty and gross as all heck. I would love that. Richard, if you read this, please get back to the sludgier stuff, maybe check out some bands like Whores to see what I am talking about. I really think like Filter doing sludge/doom would be amazing.

Album Review: Filter – Crazy Eyes

LTTP Album review: Ade – Spartacus

I’m not joking when I say that as of right now, an album from 2013 is my current front-runner for 2016’s album of the year. This album is that good. I have no idea how an album this awesome flew under my radar for so long. Plus, it’s even up as a completely free download on their Bandcamp page. You should totally give them money for it anyway. Seriously. It’s so good.

In a simplistic “they sound like band X meets band Y” terms, I could go with Speticlfesh meets a crack-addicted Neurosis with a tech-death foster parent. But that really doesn’t cover all their nuances and a simple label like that does Ade a disservice. Let me expand a bit.

With all the old styled instrumentation flying around, these guys are definitely not your run-of-the-mill death metal band. The best part is that, unlike a lot of wannabe epic or symphonic bands, these parts are worked masterfully into the songs and never feel tacked on in any way. They are truly part of the arrangements and not an afterthought. Quieter passages and non-guitar leading melody lines are intertwined just as well, if not better than, most bands that leave it to standard metal instrumentation. Ade knows when they have a good thing going,  when to stick with it, or when to move on from a particular passage. The pacing and arrangement of every song on this album is impeccable.

As for the Neurosis bit, there are some really massive riffs and sections, like the main riff for Mars’ Unpredictable Favour or the ending of 6 Thousands Crosses, where you can really hear this type of influence. If you were to slow these bits down, they would not be out of place at all on an Ufomammut album. It’s a similar situation with the tech-death bits. There are some great breakdowns and grooves every once in a while, and just the right amount of tech-y goodness thrown in to make your ears perk up and realize all of the members are also top notch players.

The production and engineering is just as high-level as the musicianship. Everything is clear and audible at all times with nary a misplaced frequency. Even when the drums are blasting, the vocalist screaming, the guitars overloading, and the bass smashing, you are still able to hear the lilting sounds of ancient Roman instruments carrying a complimentary melody over the top. My only (very) minor complaint is that the bass guitar is a little quiet. It feels like there is enough room in the mix to tick it up a tiny bit. But that is such a minor thing for such a majorly impressive album; it doesn’t really affect it in the least.

On a side note, George Kollias’ drums sound fantastic here and it’s nice to hear him do things other than straight speed like he does with Nile. I’m happy he gets to show off other aspects of his style. I mean, he’s still fast as hell and blasting like a madman, but he gets to stretch a little.

Ade’s Spartacus is one of the best things I’ve heard in a good while. I honestly cannot stop listening to it. I would regret not hearing about it back in 2013 when it came out, but then I would have had to endure the agonizing wait to get the new album they are working on right now, so I consider my late discovery a win. If you dig the more experimental or thematic sides of metal, you will dig this album. I do not hesitate in the slightest putting Spartacus up there with the other great masterworks of this type of music. Just go get it and drop them some scratch for support while you are at it. You will not regret it.

LTTP Album review: Ade – Spartacus

Album Review: After the Burial – Dig Deep

Hot damn, this is a head banger. It really is AtB doing their AtB thing as only AtB can. Unfortunately, that’s really all it is. Fortunately, that may be all it needs to be. Let’s chat about it a bit, shall we?

For starters, this album will get you moving. I had this puppy cranked as I jumped around my living room and I nearly put the damn thing on repeat just to head-bang more. I am willing to bet these songs just slay live. The thing is, it keeps losing me. I don’t quite know why. It just has trouble holding my undivided attention for its entire 39 minute run-time. One of the things I did notice is that a lot of the more interesting parts (to me anyways) never seem to be the focal point of the songs. To explain, the main anchor riffs that are repeated most often seem pretty “meh” sometimes. Then some riff in the middle will be totally amazing and unique but only pop up once for 20 seconds. Again, all the great riffs are still there, just kinda buried.

I will say this for sure though; every song does have at least one cool and interesting part, which is pretty impressive. And really, it would be a tough thing to make every part of every song amazing, but the mediocre stuff is reeeeaaaalllly mediocre, which ends up dragging the whole thing down more than is should. Again, I’m of two minds here. So what if there are some misses in the arrangements when the whole thing is just relentlessly groovy? I don’t know, it really may just be that this is more of a live energy album and not something you put on to actively listen to, and maybe that’s just fine.

All right, time for some individual critique. Well, to put it simply, everyone in the band kicks ass on this album from front to back. They may just be doing what they have done for every album so far, but they are fantastic at it. The guitars are tight, the bass holds it down, and drums add just enough flair to the parts to liven everything up a bit. I still love Anthony Notarmaso’s vocal delivery. He has great feel for the rhythmic content and knows when to do add and subtract with the rest of the band. Plus, the various tones and delivery styles he uses are great accents to the rest of the music. I personally think he’s one of the best straight screamers in metal today.

Sound wise, this album is fantastic. It’s probably their best sounding album to date, honestly. I know I have ripped a bit on Will Putney in the past, but he absolutely nails everything here. Loud or quiet, everything is in its place and easily heard. Great tones, great space, great balance. Love it.

There is one thing that I’m going to give a special mention though – the stupid ass air horn on Laurentian Ghosts. Seriously, that has to be one of the dumbest fucking things I have ever heard on an album. They may as well have just put that cartoon trombone “wah wah wahhhhhhhh” in there. It actually made me laugh out loud and stop and go back on my first listen to make sure I heard what I thought I did. What the hell were they thinking?

Taken on the whole, this is a solid if not totally remarkable banger of an album from AtB. I absolutely loved the bits of experimentation on Wolves Within and wished they would have a tried a few more things like that here on Dig Deep, but oh well. This album won’t win any new fans, as it’s more of the same, but if you like the heavy ass groove of AtB, you’ll like this album. A lot. I love it actually; I just wish it had a little something extra that took the band a little farther out. They are kinda turning into a 311 or AC/DC type band where you know exactly what you are going to get. No surprises but kick ass tunes just the same.

Album Review: After the Burial – Dig Deep

Album Review: Fleshgod Apocalypse – King

Hail (insert your favorite deity here)! It finally happened! A Fleshgod album that doesn’t sound like a pumping, brick-walled, white-noise, piece of crap. I can’t tell you how happy I am that I can actually sit and listen to a Fleshgod album, really listen to it. It really is a transformative experience with this band.

OK, time for me to geek out on the songs. Man, these arrangements are so dense and I love every second of it. Even with the ridiculous amount of notes and intertwining melody lines being tossed about, they manage to give every song a unique identity. Also, unlike prior albums, you can hear how each of the instruments push and pull with the others. When all of the parts come together it’s a really powerful sonic agreement. Pieces come together and break apart creating melody and dissonance throughout the album in a truly masterful way.

Here’s the thing, even when this album almost completely loses musical coherence, it’s part of the charm and very deliberate. All the members will go off on different melodious tangents in a seemingly scattershot manner, only to come around 30 seconds later with an intertwining of those same lines in a completely unexpected but perfect manner. Thinking of it in a visual sense, it would be like watching multiple people drawing a full color illustration in real time. Each person is free to use whatever color they need at the time and can go in whichever direction they need too, but sometimes they come together and work on the same section so you can see parts of the whole taking shape. To take this analogy further, as with this type of visual art, you can really only see the whole after its done, you can’t see it very clearly during the creation. That is what makes this band awesome and unique. That’s also what can make this band confusing. Listening to them is to be part of the creation of the whole as it happens. You are inside the creation of a musical work as its being made. The artist is creating their work in front of you, but as an observer to this act you have to choose which line to follow and which parts to pay attention to. If you try and pull your perspective back too far, it still doesn’t make sense as the drawing is incomplete during its creation. This is inherently different to most music where you are seeing a completed piece presented to you after it has been finished, thoroughly mulled over, and executed in the way the artist found to best convey their ideas. It really is something that only Fleshgod does right and something you can only really appreciate for the first time on this album due to the clarity.

I keep mentioning the sound of this album and here’s why: all their other albums sound like dog shit. Flat out truth. Sorry, I absolutely love this band, but this is the first decent sounding album they have done since they went full on orchestral.   What always made me sad was that this band needed this from the beginning. With all the complexity inherent in their arrangements, unless all the pieces are clear, you can’t appreciate the work they put in on anything other than a purely visceral level.   On this album you can, and it’s glorious. Sure, there are some compromises to get everything audible (slightly thin guitars, bass is kinda quiet), but they are all necessary and perfectly acceptable changes that allow enough room to get this amount of instrumentation to come through in a mix. It’s quite impressive that with all this sound, all the parts remain 100% intelligible.

I could actually go on a bit and get rather in detail on each piece of this album but it would turn into a 10 page review and I think that could be a bit ridiculous. Suffice it to say that Fleshgod really raised the bar they themselves set with this album. With the expanded sonic palette on display here, including some cleaner vocals and guitars, more dynamic passages, and much more tactful drumming, this album is a must own for fans of the band. If you have never given this band a chance, now is the time. They are so unique and powerful. I hope that everyone can at least give them a listen so that more people can hear this completely impressive, expressive, and insane take on music.

Album Review: Fleshgod Apocalypse – King