Got it out just before work. Pallbearer definitely delivered the goods this year, even if doom elitists are scathing and gnawing their teeth at the attempt. But I don’t believe any power metal fans will take issue with the new Hammerfall. It’s just that damn good. Winterfylleth and Krieg also delivered some strong records this year and Nothgard definitely made a notable effort in the vein of epic melodeath as well. Oh, look. There’s a bonus Ten Masked Men review also!
Pallbearer – Foundations Of Burden (2014 SPOTLIGHT) – The sophomore effort from promising Arkansas doom outfit Pallbearer has finally come and there’s no doubt in my mind that it’s nothing less than amazing. Reviewers are absolutely split right down the middle on this one, from doom purists saying “it’s too watered down and needs to sound like classic doom” to others who are calling it a “perfect album” and “truly original.” So there’s definitely been some hefty debate over this one. But while I’ll admit that Pallbearer are definitely doing something new to the doom genre, that can’t be all that bad, can it? I mean, there are always those bands like Witch Mountain and Ogre who make impressive classic doom, but this is clearly an effort at a modern doom sound that seems to rub black metal fans the same way when they hear the name Deafheaven mentioned. Of its six tracks, the quartet certainly makes their presence known, especially in Devin Holt and Brett Campbell’s riffscapes. As from what I remember; doom metal is all about the atmosphere, which is exactly what I’m getting here in spades. Not to mention Brett’s sorrowful howls, which definitely remind me of Englanders 40 Watt Sun, albeit with more structure and melody than they have offered (at least on their latest release.) I don’t believe these gentlemen are nearly as pained in real life as they sound here, but it certainly creates a believable sort of aura that can be easily grasped by the listener and lightens things up a gargantuan amount than what the “old doom guys” are used to. Trust me, when I read a comment that says “stay away from this is you truly love doom metal” then I just have to take a moment to let out a hearty guffaw and see that some of us are truly elitist and self-centered when it comes to music in general. I’ve even heard this called “light doom” or “doom lite” but that really seems to be a great way to describe it. Perhaps Pallbearer didn’t want to continue in the same direction, allowing some of their other influences to pervade into the doom they make here. After all, “Foundations 8:41” is just as much Candlemass as it is current era Anathema, or even Pink Floyd. Though to be honest, I’ve heard plenty of progressive influences in doom metal since the very beginning, even Sabbath incorporated it in the very beginning. Through and through, Foundations Of Burden is a wonderful exercise in a new school of doom metal and with anything new, you will always have an army of naysayer’s. Though not as perfect as Sorrow And Extinction, there is plenty of sorrow and melody to be found within this expression of what Arkansas doom scene is and always has been. I’ve always loved doom and Pallbearer makes me love it even more. Foundations Of Burden is an essential record to grab this year, so make sure you’ve got it.
(6 Tracks, 54:00)
Nothgard – Age Of Pandora (2014) – This sophomore album from these German epic melodic death metallers is at its most vibrant due to the use of orchestral effects and the accompaniment of two rhythm guitars as well as the lead, which frontman Dom R. Crey strums on whilst belting out scathing vocal lines in much the same style that Dark Tranquility, Soilwork or At The Gates are known for. A project from current Wolfchant and Equilibrium members, it offers more of a bite and less folk influence than both projects as it tends to focus on the meat and potatoes elements of melodeath as a whole. Though there are certainly remnants from the epic soundscapes of Equilibrium and Wolfchant, this band tends to stick mainly to the grind and doesn’t really go too far out into Neverland which is going to be a relief to those who aren’t really looking for another clone of the aforementioned. But even when movie soundtrack and tribal shouts appear in the background, there is still at the band’s root a memorable guitar section, by which a few Dragonforce (but not quite as over the top) style solos appear throughout the tracks. There’s not a song here that doesn’t see the thick symphonic however, which means that you’ll just have to deal with them if you’re going to take the journey through this one. I believe this record could best be summed up as a product of the Middle-Earth melodeath scene, rather than the Swedish one. It actually reminds me of Turisas before they went too over the top, as is what unfortunately happens to some of these bands. Songs like “Black Witch Venture 5:54” and closer “No One Holds The Crown 7:18” definitely show signs of promise though and make me hopeful for the band’s next releases. There’s certainly enough here for fans of the genre to chew on, but it’s definitely geared more to those who like their sounds a bit more bombastic while playing a heated game of League Of Legends. I’d definitely prefer it over Crimson Shadows though, as this is the kind of epic melodic death metal that doesn’t try too hard to be nothing more than a Dragonforce clone with harsh vocals.
(10 Tracks, 45:00)
Winterfylleth – The Division Of Antiquity (2014) – Apparently, the last album from these English black metallers wasn’t quite so much the “triumph” that the album title (The Threnody Of Triumph) claimed it to be. Reviews for it are less than grand, showing that people thought it sounded too much like Wolves In The Throne Room (not anymore though, as they’ve jumped off the black metal wagon entirely) and not enough like the apparent greatness of The Merican Sphere. Highly compared to another English black metal act by the name of Wodensthrone and Ukrainian’s Drudkh, Winterfylleth play a style of black metal that isn’t without its share of melody, as “Whisper Of The Elements 7:16” and “A Careworn Heart 9:38” display immediately (hell, we even have a bit of this style in Torii) especially in the latter’s use of acoustic/electric combinations which remind me of mid-era Woods Of Ypres and The Mantle era Agalloch. The Division Of Antiquity is a very odd sort of beast though, as it seems to inject a more melodic piece in between two much heavier numbers, creating a slightly weird feeling that doesn’t feel truly refined. But there’s a truly impressive performance near the end of standout “Foundations Of Ash 6:21” which is truly not to be missed, as the melodic elements finally meld in with the frantic blasts and thunderous vocal rasps that can compose full tracks on the album. There is of course nothing wrong with your bare bones black metal offering, but it is nice to hear a little more being utilized on the record, as the completely acoustic “The World Ahead 3:25” shows us. Here, vocal harmonization seems to glide along smooth passages that seem to echo either a disastrous or bright future, depending on how you ascertain the piece. Though there is a good mix of tumultuous and vibrant tracks on the record, I think that I find more of a connection with the melodic pieces which seem to offer a much stronger performance than the one for one black metal pieces. Certainly, there is some beauty to be found within The Divination Of Iniquity; but there is also a great deal of storm surrounding it which makes for a listen that evokes the sounds of nature itself. Though perhaps that was the point in the beginning. Nevertheless, I don’t think you’ll be all that disappointed with the Winterfylleth this year and that in itself, should be refreshing.
(8 Tracks, 56:00)
Hammerfall – (R)evolution (2014) – Swedish power metal masters Hammerfall are back with a brand new album and a definite comeback in (R)evolution. There was no doubt in my mind that Infected was the worst album I’ve ever heard from the band, so you really have no idea how long I waited for a follow-up to that. But as I said, (R)evolution is a definite return to the band’s former glory, opening up with the grandiose “Hector’s Hymn 5:54” (for which a video was recently made) and continuing right on with such high watermarks like the triumphant “Bushido 4:41”, the anthemic “Live Life Loud 3:32” as well as other great pieces like “We Won’t Back Down 4:19” and the Game Of Thrones inspired “Winter Is Coming 3:49” which is actually a ballad, done in classic Hammerfall style. Apparently, people really didn’t enjoy anything after Threshold and it was beginning to seem as if the band’s best days were long behind it. (I still don’t know why there’s so much hate on MA regarding Crimson Thunder, as I fucking loved that album.) But like a shining beacon of hope, the (R)evolution rides valiantly like a battle-worn but steadfast warrior with a renewed sense of vigor and purpose. It seemed like they were really going to hang it up after Infected and I’ve never been disappointed by a power metal album as much as I had been that year; but after witnessing the bold leap in precision and clarity that the band have unleashed here, I truly think that (R)evolution will stand as one of their brightest moments. Twin guitarists Oscar Dronjak and Pontus Norgen shred up a storm, as Joacim Cans unleashes his best vocal performance since Glory To The Brave or Chapter V, if you think I’m getting too carried away. But nevertheless, the amount of wonderful melody and guitar showmanship on this record echoes everything about Hammerfall that I have always admired and respected. Hammerfall has been and always will be one of my favorite power metal bands of all time, so hearing them sound as triumphant as they did during the old days in 2014 certainly brings me hope for a brighter tomorrow. Of course, the deliciously evil riffs and atmosphere that make up “Evil Incarnate 4:36” feel reminiscent of one of my favorite Hammerfall tracks of late, “Legion” which continues to show me that the lyrics aren’t completely limited to warriors and victory. Even though those are definitely awesome things, which can’t be sung about enough. Definitely get your hands on this one, as it’s definitely one of the best power metal albums that I’ve heard all year. The kings have returned!
(11 Tracks, 47:00)
Krieg – Transient (2014) – New Jersey black metallers Krieg are at it again with their first full-length in four years (even though they have released more than enough splits and EP’s to more than make up for the absence), which sees the band’s style moving into a cold, industrial landscape that reaches its apex during the very last two segments of the disc. I don’t know if listeners are prepared, or will even be acceptive of the electronic atmospheres and spoken word vocals of “Home 7:37” but to be fair, these electronics were hinted at on the disc’s opener, “Order Of The Solitary Road 5:43” so you should have known they were coming. The rest of the record also seems to play around with electronic influence, but not quite so much as it unleashes a sort of post-black onslaught, which brings images of a post-apocalyptic future, where Orwell’s books may have well been prophetic. At this stage, Krieg literally sound like a mix of mid-era Satyricon, Mayhem and Cult Of Luna. Online listeners seem to tie them in with Leviathan, Nachtmystium and Twilight among others, but I certainly see those resemblances echoed throughout this album. It almost seems as if we Americans came up with this rustic industrial post black metal dipped in sludge, as every one of those bands I’ve named also has tampered with it at one point in their careers. Krieg still sounds like a black metal act in theory, but might contain a little too much of certain punk and post metal styles to turn off the traditional fanatics. But that seems to be the point, as I think these guys were looking to mix all of their influences into one black metal pot; creating a new school that leaves a bad taste in the mouth of the elitist, which is the exact same thing for Pallbearer and lovers of traditional doom. Some people just can’t get into this new style of sound, because it doesn’t resemble what they grew up with or have been accustomed to. But if you take in Transient as a whole you will find a solid record in this exercise in black metal experimentalism, which will make this post-modern sound a bit more appealing. Each track on the record takes a slightly different approach in the same style, showing a band that isn’t afraid to have some balls and do something that’s a little left of field from the myriads of other corpse paint-by-numbers black metal acts. Krieg is the kind of gateway drug that punks, hardcore fans and post metal nuts can get into and it serves up a healthy serving of black metal while indulging in each of these foreign territories. Black metal is certainly branching out in the United States and Krieg is definitely proof of that.
(11 Tracks, 57:00)
Attack Of The Ten Masked Men (2008) – Originally set for release in 2006, (don’t let them fool you, because I remember scavenging the net for a way to buy this thing on the day it released) this album finally released in 2014 (trust me, I posted something on the band’s FB page just last year wondering where I could get it) on the band’s Bandcamp along with their newest record, Revenge Of The Ten Masked Men (2014). But now that’s it’s finally released and in much better quality than the YouTube clips offered, let’s roll through it.
The first song on the disc is an awesome cover of Phil Collins’ “Easy Lover 3:36” which is probably one of the best songs these guys could have covered, because Phil Collins is fucking awesome. As you might expect, they give the track the veritable Entombed treatment, putting it through a thicker drum battering and a truckload of vocal gravel. But the track still maintains the original riff melodies, which I think worked well for it. Next there’s the Coolio cover of “Gangsta’s Paradise 3:48” which everyone remembers from the soundtrack to Dangerous Minds. I always thought this was a Tupac song, but it seems I’m wrong there. At any rate, this single from the album certainly stood out with its use of growl-raps (something I have wanted to incorporate on an entire album since my teen years), moving right onto Blue’s “All Rise 3:44” and Belinda Carlisle’s “Circle In The Sand 2:44” which both didn’t impress me all that much, as the first track just seemed to blend in with the second, until Wham’s “Careless Whisper 4:06” came into place. This song has been covered by several other groups like rockers Seether for example; but here the Brits give it a definite flogging with their fiery approach and sax to guitar melody transition. Fleetwood Mac’s “Little Lies 2:46” came off decently enough, but it didn’t really communicate that well in my ears. Girls Aloud’s cover of “Something Kinda Ooooh 2:43” comes off with hilarity, but it doesn’t really punch for me. Craig David’s “7 Days 3:42” brings melody back into the mix, but the chorus kind of loses me. Perhaps because I haven’t heard the originals for some of these, I can’t really understand the cover versions. “Thunderball” comes off as this album’s Bond theme and even though it crushes you against the side of the wall, I’m just not feeling it as much as “Goldeneye” from the band’s latest release. Scarface’s “Push It To The Limit 2:37” comes off as a good rendition of the workout classic, but for all sakes and purposes I actually prefer the corniness of the original. A guitar solo finally makes an approach here, but this one just doesn’t fare well as the band’s cover of another good workout/montage theme that will play later in the disc. Boney M’s “Rasputin 3:29” has some decent riff melodies, but I just can’t get into it either. I would have rather heard these guys do a cover of Was Not Was “Walk The Dinosaur” instead. Madonna’s “La Isla Bonita 3:07” came next, but I’ve never heard this track in my fucking life. I guess the album might appeal to those who are more familiar with the original material, but to be honest I usually just take my favorite covers from the band’s various albums and make a little play list out of them, like I suspect most people do. The final track on this disc is one of the only tracks that I could actually download and play those many years ago, because like I said before; this album was impossible to track down. So “Eye Of The Tiger 3:40” was the only glimpse that I had from the album for at least six years. And I remember listening to the track back in 2007, so I can clarify that this thing originally released back in 2006, even though you couldn’t find the damn thing anywhere. As for the track though, “Eye Of The Tiger” is hands down, my favorite Ten Masked Men offering of all time. I even like this cover better than Survivor’s original and have said that many times to many people throughout my life. It left that much of an impact on me and I wore this fucker out many times throughout my early twenties. Attack Of The Ten Masked Men is not a bad album by any means, but it’s definitely not their best in my opinion. (A friend of mine just told me that he thought it was their best a few days ago though.) Though there are some major standouts, there’s also a lot of filler too, making for a record that’s far less intriguing than its predecessor, The Phanten Masked Menace. It’s definitely worth it for the few standouts, but they can do a bit better than this, as the band’s latest album showcases rather well.
(13 Tracks, 42:00)