[Music/Metal] Happy 4th of July!

As living in the US, it is for me now part of the tradition to celebrate the 4th of July. Happy 4th of July! Time for me to share my favorite US metal bands that are in my disc library. This is my very personal list, so please don’t comment asking why I have not have a certain band in my list. There are likely two reasons: either they went under my radar or they simply did not click with me in terms of my musical taste. I have been running this redundant post for two years now, so I will spare you the blabla and let you jump to the list :). Here we go, sorted by alphabetical list:
* Aria Flame (ex-Dendura, MI) – Gothic Metal: https://www.facebook.com/ariaflameworld/
* Beyond Forgiveness (CO) – Gothic/Folk Metal. If you are looking for a US minstrels and troubadours having the vibes of medieval folk metal (something like a Blind Guardian or Haggard), this is your inn to stop on your journey: https://www.facebook.com/beyondforgivenessmetal/
* Destiny Beard (MI, PA) – Gothic Metal:https://www.facebook.com/Destinibeardmusic/
* The Ditch & The Delta (UT) – Sludge Metal: https://www.facebook.com/theditchandthedeltaslc/
* Evanescence (AR) – Gothic Rock: https://www.facebook.com/Evanescence/
* Exalt The Throne (TX) – Melodic Death, they are having their final gig on July 29th, I gonna miss them :(. https://www.facebook.com/exaltthethroneofficial/
* Faytree (GA, OH) – Melodic Death: https://www.facebook.com/faytreeband/
* In This Moment (CA) – Metalcore. Check their old stuff (first three albums), that was some promising band that unfortunately lost their vibe for few years now: https://www.facebook.com/officialinthismoment/
* Kamelot (FL) – Power Melodic Metal. Come on, should I introduce Kamelot? https://www.facebook.com/kamelotofficial/
* Mercy Isle (MI) – Gothic Metal. A very interesting US-Dutch collaboration, making them a sort of spinning free electron: https://www.facebook.com/MercyIsle/
* Metallica (CA) – Thrash Metal. Because who does not have a Metallica album in their disc library. 35 years and still running! https://www.facebook.com/Metallica/
* Midnight Eternal (NY) – Power Melodic Metal. What if Dragonforce and Nightwish had a child? Midnight Eternal would be its name: https://www.facebook.com/MidnightEternal/
* Red Beard Wall (TX) Sludge Metal. Ever wondered how doom metal would sound with a flavor of Southern music, with elements of punk and death metal? It has a name: sludge metal and my first exposure was through Red Beard Wall. It came out of nowhere like a meteor and crashed into the local metal scene in Yellow City. If you are living in the High Plains or South Plains, check them out: https://www.facebook.com/redbeardwall/
* Rozamov (MA) Sludge/Doom Metal. That was some of the best surprise this spring, allowing me to discover this sub-genre of doom metal blended with Southern tunes, punk and death metal. https://www.facebook.com/Rozamov/
* Santa Marta (UT) – Gothic Metal. The next project of Mary Zimmer (ex-Ottoman Empire/Luna Mortis, ex-The White Empress). Check it out and keep eye on it. https://www.facebook.com/SantaMartaBand/
* Scarlet Canary (CO) – Metal/Rock: https://www.facebook.com/ScarletCanary/
* Seven Kingdoms (FL) – Melodic Power Metal. There is something running in Florida water but it makes their Melodic Power Metal
* Slayer (CA) – Thrash Metal. Slayer still slaying, not even an ounce of their brutal tempo was left over the years. This is where I had to disagree on Floor Jansen, nothing beats a mosh pit or an album from Slayer as a catharsis vector. If you don’t know what to expect from Slayer, go attend one of their gigs with Lamb of God and Behemoth. Not for the choir singer though: https://www.facebook.com/slayer/
* Thyshade (CO) – Symphonic Metal. One of my discovery last winter and one of the best US soprano vocals: https://www.facebook.com/thyshadeofficial/

 

[Metal/Melodic Metal] Alwaid – The Machine and The Beast (90%)

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Sometimes, the post office can bring you a nice surprise in front of your doorstep. That surprise was coming from Alwaid (Lille, France) through the form of their second album “The Machine and The Beast” I have contributed in crowdfunding sometimes end of last year and beginning of this year. I completely forgot about it and I guess the French post office also probably forgot how to send it overseas, so it ended up last week in front of my door.
This second album is an 11-songs album spanned over 57 minutes. What I can tell is very dependent on if you have listened or not to their first album “Lacus Somniorum” because it is an almost 180 flip from this one. Let me explain. Their first album, it felt mostly ethereal having this atmospheric doom metal vibes backed by the high vocal ranges of Marie (the front singer). In this one, you get blown by the heaviness of the album. It is like trading the calm shores of the Sea of Black Tears and now facing the Guns of Navarone, the Stalin’s organs with the heavy riffs and fast-paced melodics leveling up everything in front of it. Even Marie traded her high vocals into much lower tones. Thats explains why I found it takes a 180 flip from “Lacus”.
Things starts with a symphonic opening “Enter the Other One Inside” giving this aspect of grandiose rapidly followed by the heavy tones of “Amphisbaena” reminding us something similar to “Hei! Aa-Shanta’nygh!” but also something different: Marie hitting the low octave for the first time in their discography. You are kind of confused if Marie is still in until she hits the higher notes as a reminder (yep, thats Marie!). Alwaid bringing up the big show, big time in their opening act! It is rapidly followed by “When Giants Wake” and “The Whale” bringing some melodic death tunes in it, keeping you riding afloat. “The Lord of Cities” reminds me a lot “The Scream That No One Heard”, my favorite on “Lacus”, feeling like a power metal ballad by its fast-paced drums, its heavy and melodics  and Marie high-vocal pitch. It is like riding a Rainbow Unicorn from Hell and slashing orcs and ghouls in the Valley of Death. “Monsters By Gaslight” have this kind of feeling that I would hear from Whyzdom (another of my favorite French metal band) and pumps you up enough to grab your mighty axe and slash some demons.
“Sang Noir” slows down the whole album but in a good manner, bringing this melodic ballad track with some familiar with “The Cypress Grove”.
“So The Song Went”, track 8 brings on this orchestral opening giving this feel I had with “Alghavil Altannin” from their previous album, slow and  languishing pain almost feeling like doom metal. “Idle Riddles And Rhymes” is certainly the most symphonic song of the all album, with this dark symphonic tones. “Fractalized” is the acoustic ballad track of the album, with an acoustic guitar that is a pleasing. “The Call of the Wild” is the one that I would say is the weakest track of the whole album. I don’t know why or to how to explain it but found it quite displeasing to my ears.
Alwaid perfectly renewed their winning formula of “Lacus…” and yet improving it by making it heavier, bolder, faster and darker. In a time where a lot of FFM bands water down their metal with post-processing or an overuse of keyboards putting the guitars in the back burner, Alwaid brings them upfront. The result? Something that makes you feel like riding in the Valley of Death on a Unicorn from Hell and slashing an army of orcs with your mighty axe. France, slowly but surely, is joining the elite club of FFM bands and Alwaid is certainly the challenger you want to keep an eye on. Rightfully, it merits the June “album of the month”.

[Videogames/Metal] Brutal Legend – XB360 (80%)

Sometimes you never know what you can find in a Gamestop “dumpster” (you know the $5 or less /$20 or less games holding on some cardobard shelves). One was Brutal Legend. I had my eyes on when I have played once the demo downloaded from Xbox Live. I really liked it for two reasons:
Firstly,  it was a game heavily influenced by metal and there are very few that come in mind. I still remember the attempt of Motley Crue to cash on Crueball on Genesis (a pinball-based game, also used by Kiss in one of these PC budget games), Motorhead on Amiga/Atari ST (a beat-them up developed by Ocean somewhere in 1992) or Iron Maiden Ed Hunter featuring Eddie in a kind of “Operation Wolf” game.
Secondly,  for what seemed a cool storyline. The story features Eddie Riggs, a “roadie” setting up the stage for a rock band called Kabbage Boy, lets say Eddie is rightfully not fond of his performance. As Eddie sets stage, a element of the stage falls on directly aiming one of the band member. Eddie jumps to his rescue only to get crushed by the scenery element. Eddie wakes up in a complete strange world, directly taken from some of the best heavy metal album artworks. Here Eddie becomes an anti-hero fighting demons with his mighty axe and his guitar riffs.
After playing back-and-forth with the game during the last month, I finally finished it up tonight. There are the good, the very good and the very annoying part of the game.
The good thing about the game is its very high fidelity of the game towards the material it got inspired by. It is heavy metal at its finest with the contribution of kings of the genre   appearing as cameos such as Ozzy Osbourne (Black Sabbath/Ozzy Osbourne,appearing as the guardian of metal, the shop to go to upgrade your weapons and your car), Rob Halford (Judas Priest, posing as the Fire Baron), Lemmy Kilmister (Motorhead, the bass-playing Kill Master), Lita Ford (presented as Lita, one leader of the human resistance)……
The second good thing (if you ignore the annoying part) is this semi-open space allowing you to drive through the heavy metal hell, ramming through the wildlife and allowing you to complete some side quests and unlock some uniqueness (monuments, dragons…..) that will buildup your combat skills.
Then comes the very good part: the storyline and the damn good playlist. The storyline is simply awesome as you end up fighting hordes of glam/hair metal villains, with the stereotype of the hair metal bands that flourished in the 80s, followed by a dive into the depressive doom and gloom of gothic/doom metal genre (with some of the best enemies to fight, straight out of a Tim Burton mind) and finally a quick insight into industrial metal (at the very end). For most of these, you have a remarkable playlists of metal bands that perfectly match the missions: fighting off glam metal troops with Motley Crue “Dr. Feelgood”, only to escape the crumbling White Lion palace through the soundtrack of of the UK powermetal band Drangonforce “Through the Fire and The Flames”. Just playing this part of the game in which you are slaloming between dragons breaking bridges and blocking roads with that blowing in the background music worth its amount of pesos. It is not one, but over 100 songs in that playlist that you can play through driving in the metal Hell, something very similar to a GTA game. Some of the best and most versatile metal playlist I have ever heard into a video game: Dragonforce, Judas Priest, Motorhead, Scorpions, Motley Crue, Carcass, Dimmu Borgir, Accept, Megadeath…..
Just for that the game worth the purchase.
Now comes the very annoying part of the game: the simile-RTS game sequence. At some point in the game, you will be asked to play a sort of real-time strategy game (you know the type of Dune II, Command & Conquer, Warcraft…), in a very primitive form, using the metal as a source: The stage being your main base/barracks; the march store towers being the source of energy to harvest and troops from the basic headbangers grunt to the juggernaut unit capable to blast off towers. The idea is great, the put into practice? Meh…….it felt more than a pain than anything else as you have to go back and forth to get to the units. The other thing that also made me quit the game halfway is that mission in which you have to capture wild feral cats (looking as KISS-like panthers) by circling them with a circle of fire. The controls were just terrible and makes you really want to give up. As a sidenote, the presence of redudant sidequest (ambush enemies, defend your tower, race against the same foe) felt like a lot of deja-vu. You have to do them to gain skill points to upgrade your character but felt more a curfew than anything else (especially at a certain point of the game you have so much skill points accumulated but nowhere to redeem the upgrades).
In conclusion, if you love heavy metal and looking for a good game really doing a service  to the genre, grab a copy and play it. The game is far from perfect, there are much better adventure games and real RTS games to quench your thirst than this one. But in my opinion, this was the PERFECT metal game ever I have been playing so far and really wish someone decides to renew this experience.

[Melodic Death Metal] The Ottoman Empire – Way of the Blade (10th anniversary)

2016 is entering its last segment and before it ends I want to be sure that I give a thumbs up to any albums of my collection that marks a anniversary year. Among of them is a precious jewel that is not well known, from a band named The Ottoman Empire (aka Luna Mortis) with a certain Mary Zimmer. If there is a female metal front singer that masters both the growls and the clean in the US metal scene, it is surely Mary.
What this album has a special place? Well for different reasons. First, it is a melodic death metal band and I like the complexity of guitar riffs coupled with the brutality of fast drums and bass shredding. The second reason is probably the geography shared between me and the band. The band is originated from Madison, Wisconsin. Two bands as I know are Badgers at heart: Garbage (alternative rock that got some success in the mid-1990s) and The Ottoman Empire. I lived few years in Madison as part of my scientific training and Madison still kept a special place in my heart for different reasons. If you survive its winter, then you truly enjoy the city.
So this is their seminal album “Way of The Blade” released on October 7, 2006. It is made of 10 songs lasting about 50 minutes. Most songs last a good 4 to 6 minutes, with “The Mercenary” lasting a 12 minute.
The album starts with “Anemic World” that quickly set the tone. An amazing opening guitar riff sequence, followed by fast-pace drumbeats and the entrance of Mary bringing her magic touch, alternating between growls and clean. All well played that gives on this frenzy and yet very elaborated rhythmic. My favorite.
It is followed by “Demon Twin”, keeping on the signature and by “The Ottoman Empire”. I like the “Ottoman Empire” by its slower and bit more languish pace allowing to enjoy the musical arrangement and the lyrics. This kind of quiet interlude is only distracting from the next track “Wrathshot” that brings on back the fast pace and Mary all in her rage and fury (that will be her signature with “The White Empress”). Washing away is “One If by Sea” that is almost melodic and melancholic ballad, only to shake you up with rage and furor by intermittent. “Strike” is another typical song of the album marking the Ottoman Empire musical style through this album and their two other album.
“The Mercenary” is my second favorite, Mary bringing her melancholic voice and the great guitar arrangement, to only break it down brutally. Another great song. “Vendetta”, the 8th track, brings on the rage and the furor back from “Anemic World” and “Wrathshot”. The album almost conclude by an “Interlude”, a guitar solo.If you like the sound of an electrical guitar simple tones, it is a great way to exit from the tumult of the album. Finally, the last track “Way of The Blade” concludes the album, surfing on the same musical frame than “Strike”.
It is interesting to retrospectively rediscover this album, as I got introduced to Mary with “The White Empress” almost two years ago. You can appreciate that her talent was already present from the very first album and only refined, crafted and mastered it. If you like Mary vocal performance from her recent work in Santa Marta, you should definitely get your hands on this album. A must-have.

[Metal] The Agonist – Five (80%)

img_0399November is ending and I just realized I missed to review one album that came out during this month. This album that I almost missed is “Five” from the Agonist. The second album with Vicky Psarakis fronting, replacing Alissa White-Gluz (now front singer of Arch Enemy).
With her second album with the band, how does Vicky vocal performance stands? Good, very good indeed. Louder, stronger, better. Let’s go through the album, a 14-track album totaling 58 minutes.
It all starts with “The Moment”, simple but loud and heavy, nicely alternating Vicky’s cleans and growls. We are still in the range of the Agonist but I felt the sound and melodic tone have matured in a good manner. This feeling is present all along the album.

Then comes the second track “The Chain”, bringing on the fast-pace that were acclimated with the Agonist, again a nice track if you like the Agonist when they speed up their tunes. We keep in the same tunes with “The Anchor and The Sail”,  “The Game”, “The Ocean”, “The Hunt”.

Some safe placement but also nothing that I found exceptional, except the latter that I really like from all four. Then comes “The Raven Eyes” like an interlude in the middle, mostly acoustic almost with this pleasing jazz-feeling, in which Vicky’s voice nicely matches. Following “The Raven Eyes” comes “The Wake”, a mostly instrumental track playing on the symphonic tunes.
This relaxing feeling is indeed a trick from the band, as “The Resurrection” brings back the death metal on the table, like a sudden wakeup. Nice but nothing out of the ordinary. In contrast, “The Villain” shakes up much more with Vicky unleashing her growls in it, all in her rage and furor. My second favorite one. The album continues with “The Pursuit of Emptiness”, another track falling in the classic Agonist sounds. What comes from the ordinary is the 12th track, “The Man Who Fell to Earth”. Slow, dark and sensual track going out of the ordinary. Another in my favorite list. The album concludes with “The Trial”, following the same step than the previous one, with Vicky’s performance mostly clean but a higher level of heaviness.
The final track of the album is indeed a cover of Hozier “Take Me To Church” that received the 2014 Grammy rock song of the year, giving a much more punchy and heavy tone to the song making it more enjoyable.
In conclusion, this album proves the potential of Vicky. She has matured and progressed. Same can be told for the band. It is a nice album but still a dramatic release that would shake my library. Still it is a nice album to get your hands on,  give a try on iTunes and see if you like it.

[Metal/Melodic Death] Arch Enemy – Black Earth 20th anniversary

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the release of Arch Enemy “Black Earth”, seeding what I consider of one of the most favorite melodic death metal, in particular by the powerful melodic riffs of Michael Amott. His talented skills on melodic riffs are in my opinion awesome and makes Arch Enemy different from the mainstream death metal bands.
As a freshman album, you always this feeling of the drafty and finding out his niche if you compare side-by-side the Arch Enemy style of 1997 and Arch Enemy of 2016. Retrospectively, you will need to wait until their third album “Anthems of Rebellion” and the position of Angela Gussow to obtain the trademark of Arch Enemy. Yet, this album is already rich with Michael melodic riffs that contrast with the heavy and brutal of the death metal. The album is made of 12 songs and it is some very good death metal tunes and stand as a 20 year album head high to many modern production. The vocals of Johan Liiva (ex-Carnage, in which he and Michael came from) are great and clearly understandable, a staple in our days in which many death metal bands front singers are all sounding the same.
More recently, Michael has mounted several pet projects including the progressive rock “Spiritual Beggars” and even reformed the original lineup that formed this album and named it simply “Black Earth”.
If you like powerful melodic guitar riffs and the hard banging of death metal, you should give a try to their first album, a milestone in Arch Enemy album.

[Metal] Exalt The Throne – Long Live The King (80%)

After months of waiting, I finally got my hand on Exalt The Throne first full-release “Long Live The King”. Exalt the Throne (Dallas/Fort Worth-TX) was one of the biggest surprise as a opening band for Epica during their concert in Dallas at the beginning of the year.
It was a last-minute change in the line-up and completely unexpected, so you can imagine the surprise to see a band opening for Epica and have absolutely no clue who they are and what style of metal you will listen to.
Well you would expect something symphonic since it is opening for Epica right? Wrong. It was even better than that. It was a blend of melodic death (with some great guitar riffs of Charles Benson, also a member of Astyanax) with the clean mezzo-soprano female voice of Courtney. That was a blast, despite audio technical difficulties.
After months in waiting, they finally released their first album, a 9-track album named “Long Live The King”. Of course, gave my commute test to it. Result? A fairly good start for a first-time release. I liked it.
It is heavy, sometimes fast-paced (like you would expect from any death metal band), sometimes harbor very nice solo melodic guitar riffs from Charles. So at first, you would take it as a death metal. Then comes Courtney with her clean mezzo voice and bang, your brain is entering a conundrum state, sometimes conflicting but I find it really interesting. You get lost between in a complex decision-making between jumping into the mosh or standing listening to Courtney.
Why? Because you have a nice blending of the bold and the beautiful.
The album is overall good, I did not have any particular track that for me stood up. But that’s not bad, it means the album is not conceived around two-three songs and then molded with some filler.
The engineering is very raw, no synths and no the fluffiness you would expect from any Dutch symphonic metal album. The mixing has been done fairly well, considering the band likely worked on a tight budget.
Now after listening to the album, I am in need to see them live. The problem? The ride to Dallas, that’s a good 5-hour ride. Hopefully they will have a date with a decent line-up in a weekend to bait me for a ride down to the DFW.
Long Live The King!