Reviews

Deftones – Ohms review

Deftones have out done themselves.

While White Pony has long been held up as the pinnacle of their career (rightly so, it’s killer), they’ve produced a lot of material that has come close but hasn’t had the same impact as the left turn they took in the year 2000.

OHMS has achieved that rarest of feats, to paraphrase the man who climbed Everest for the first time they have knocked the bastard off.

It’s beautifully heavy, intense and dynamic, a guitar driven behemoth that takes the listener on a rollercoaster ride veering left when you expect a right, plunging new depths just as you’ve been lifted to new heights and then there’s the seagulls.

Opening track Genesis feels like you are drowning in molasses and Chino’s vocal is the buoy that is keeping your head above the waterline.

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Ceremony has a real Perry Farrell feel in the melody and some of the vocal phrasing. It’s the calm after and before the storm as Urantia hits you with a machine gun guitar start that echoes some twisted Maiden-esque monster and then drops out to a plaintive vocal that’s a real surprise, the song builds beautifully.

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Error’s squealing feedback introduction is yet another shift and another mood that soon has Chino’s vocal soaring at its best while Abe’s syncopated playing drives the song on.

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The bassline to start The Spell of Mathematics cuts right through you – what a start to a song. There are finger clicks/hand claps, surges in and out like a tide that lets you get comfortable.

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The clean guitar intro and relaxed vocal of Pompeji goad the listener into a false sense of what is to come and then bam – a wave of Tool like ferociousness that will have you flicking through the album booklet to check if Maynard James Keenan was present during this session. The song is a rarity for the band in that it feels like it’s really telling a story and the ambient keyboard accompanied by the seagulls bring a feeling of relative peace to end the song.

As Pompeji had echoes of Tool, This Link Is Dead feels like a real anthem, a frustrated punk energy and rebellious rant that evokes Zack De La Rocha and RATM. The songs energy drives throughout but the expected full on fury never gets fully unleashed. I was equally disappointed it did not happen and impressed the band choose restraint from doing the expected.

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An out of step riff peppers Radiant City and it is rapidly hooked into your head, instantly memorable. Clean to distorted vocal switches throughout add to the intensity that never lets up on one of the shortest tracks on the album.

Headless is more Deftones goodness, if there is a song that represents the essence of the band distilled in one place it is here, could easily have been on White Pony.

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Finally, the title tracks with THAT guitar riff – truly epic. Ohms is relentlessly heavy and winds its way around you like a boa constrictor, all encompassing and crushingly beautiful. What a way to finish a record that is certainly the high tide mark of Deftones output.

10/10

Iron Maiden – Book of Souls

A while ago I was asked to write not just a review of the new Iron Maiden album but also a piece on what they mean to metal and why they’re so enduring – if you missed it then, here it is now.

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It’s been 35 years since Iron Maiden released their debut self-titled album and it’s safe to assume that no one foresaw what they would become.

Maiden have transcended being a mere metal band, they are for all intents and purposes THE quintessential metal band. They’ve stayed strong and true to the essence of the band without stagnating and the have been a constant for a legion of fans.

While others sold out to commercial temptations, wrestled with their identities or just gave it away altogether Maiden battled on. Even the six year hiatus of frontman Bruce Dickinson couldn’t stop them and when he came back into the fold in 1999 it was as if he never left and the band continued to produce what can only be described as “more Maiden”.

You could argue that Black Sabbath gave birth to the genre or that Judas Priest have been as influential or that Metallica have a larger fan base and bigger reach sure but none of them have dominated the musical consciousness and imagination of metal fans in quite the way Iron Maiden have.

The iconography of the band sets them apart too, as important a member of the Iron Maiden family as Steve Harris, Nicko McBrain, Bruce Dickinson, Dave Murray, Adrian Smith or Janick Gers is the unofficial 7th member of the band Eddie.

The creation of artist Derek Riggs, Eddie or Eddie the Head has adorned Iron Maiden album and single covers in one guise or another since that self-titled debut, hell he even has his own video game.

My first “metal” t –shirt, like thousands of metal fans, was Iron Maiden.  A gift from my metal loving cousin, who had earlier introduced me to Twisted Sister, it featured a Sphinx like Eddie on the front and though I was yet to hear Powerslave I loved it already. The fact that my Mum hated it only added to the attraction and Iron Maiden had a new fan just like that.

It’s the power of the pull of the bands artwork and Eddie that makes the packaging and everything that comes with a new record so exciting. While waiting on a new album the anticipation isn’t just what will the new record sound like but also what will Eddie look like this time?

We’ve had Zombie punks, time travelling gunslingers, lobotomised mental patients amongst many incarnations of Eddie and for the bands 16th album, The Book of Souls, we have possibly the most intimidating and striking Eddie yet – the living dead Mayan sacrifice complete with a hole in the chest cavity and ruby red eyes – well done lads you’ve out done yourselves!

So for me Iron Maiden is the first thing that comes to my mind when I think metal and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

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Iron Maiden’s 16th album The Book of Souls has been delivered in their 40th year of existence and it’s testament to the drive and artistry of the band themselves that after so long they keep evolving and exploring their talents.  The scope of what Steve Harris & co have achieved here is remarkable, not only delivering fresh takes on what you would expect from these bastions of British metal but also pushing the boundaries at every opportunity.

That said, it’s only natural that a band with this kind of longevity will eventually borrow some idea’s from their own back catalogue, the intro to Shadows of the Valley for example has a real Wasted Years feel and in Death or Glory there’s an echo of the Running Free melody through the chorus but it feels more like a nod to the past than dredging inspiration.

There are some truly epic new Iron Maiden classics on The Book of Souls, and the opening track If Eternity Should Fail with its eerie cosmic effects, Maiden’s trademark gallop and Bruce Dickinson’s soaring vocal foretelling of a bleak, perhaps non-existent, future is possibly the strongest statement they’ve ever made to open a record.

Speed of Light, the first single is a raw throwback track that echoes classic Deep Purple and drives home with real intensity while The Great Unknown, the first of three Smith/Harris compositions, builds like the cadence of marching jack boots with Dickinson’s commanding wail soaring over the top.

Commander in chief Steve Harris has just the one solo writing credit on The Book of Souls and The Red and The Blacks warm bass intro with a vague promise of doom leads your ears into a near 14 minute odyssey twisting riff and Dickinsonian shanty of woe.

The River Runs Deep is a frenetic guitar duel that decelerates into the chorus just enough for the vocal to catch up before disappearing ahead again in a blur fret dancing axemanship then, to use a vinyl parlance, we hit the end of “side one”.

The title track, The Book of Souls, is a brooding atmospheric piece from which imbues a sense of most definite mortality, interestingly the song takes a departure at the midway mark driving deeper in the darkness and offering some of the heaviest moments on the album.

Bruce Dickinson’s love or historic flight gets its first outing on the album in the form of Death or Glory, a hooky mid-tempo single in the making that’s an ode to the Red Barron while Shadows of the Valley has Dickinson referencing both Edgar Allan Poe and the Old Testament as the rest of the band delivers what maybe the most complete performance on the album.

What follows is probably the weak point of the record in Tears of the Clown, a song written about the late Robin Williams. It’s the only track on The Book of Souls that I think is predictable, almost has an 80’s hard rock feel to it and as a result feels out of place here.

The Man of Sorrows is as close as the album gets to a ballad, it is guilty of building nicely without really going anywhere but Dickinson’s vocal really carries the song through to the guitar solo which is superb.

The final track, Empire Of The Clouds, is not only the longest track, at 18 minutes, the band have ever recorded it’s also the most challenging. Steve Harris refers to the Dickinson penned piece about the death of the Airship R101 in 1930 as a metal opera and it’s easy to see why. The opening four minutes is all the vocalist on piano and McBrain accenting the melody and when the guitars are brought in it’s subtly backing up what the former have built. It’s very definitely Maiden but there more than a touch of Prog influence at play here too.

Recorded at the same Parisian studio that the band used for Brave New World in 2000 The Book of Souls marked a change in the way Maiden wrote and recorded. Instead of bringing completed songs into the studio they wrote in studio and laid down the tracks as soon as the song was completed and this approach has captured them at the their best, uninhibited and playing with the vim and vigour of a band half their age, this doesn’t feel like a swan song but more like the start of a new chapter, confidence and direction for the challenge still to come.

Pantera – Far Beyond Driven (20th Anniversary Edition)

Pantera - Far Beyond Driven (1994)There is no subtlety about Far Beyond Driven. It’s just BANG! in your face, how do you like that muthafucker attitude from the moment  ‘Strength Beyond Strength’ assaults your senses.

It’s the album that best embodies Pantera. From the dragging your ear drums over broken glass crunch of ‘Becoming’ to the venom spitting delivery on ‘5 Minutes Alone’ and the beautifully depressed cover of Black Sabbath’s ‘Planet Caravan’ to close the record – everything is a perfect balance and captures the band at the height of their powers.

20 years on the influence is rife. As Dimebag-inspired wannabe guitar gods everywhere can attest, plain and simple, this album is the shit.

Ronnie James Dio – This Is Your Life

RJDIt doesn’t seem that long ago that I saw Ronnie James Dio fronting Heaven & Hell and absolutely mesmerizing the audience. But it was seven years ago and this May will mark four years since he lost his battle with stomach cancer.

The great and good of heavy metal have gathered to pay tribute here and RJD’s well celebrated.

Anthrax kick things off with Joey Belladonna owning ‘Neon Knights’, Corey Taylor and associates do justice to ‘Rainbow in the Dark’ and the previously released ‘Holy Diver’ by Howard Jones era Killswitch Engage is a treat. The highlight though is Metallica’s epic nine-minute Ronnie’s Rising four song medley.

As good as this tribute is I just hope it inspires you to break out the old records and hear the original Ronnie James Dio in all his glory.

Black Label Society – Catacombs Of The Black Vatican

Black_Label_Society_Catacombs_of_the_Black_Vatican_colored_a__70496.1408334947.1280.1280Zakk Wylde has survived an alcohol addiction, blood clots and more impressively, over 20 years as Ozzy Osbourne’s guitarist. Black Label Society IS Zakk. It’s the band he put together as his creative outlet during the down times and Catacombs Of The Black Vatican is the tenth studio album he’s released.

The clarity and focus of this record really stands out and it’s safe to say this is the best Zakk and his band has sounded since 2003’s The Blessed Hellride. ‘Beyond the Down’, ‘My Dying Time’ and the opener ‘Fields of Unforgiveness’ are stand outs as future classics while ‘Heart of Darkness’ is the heaviest slab of riff on offer.

Wylde’s guitar playing is exemplary but it’s his vocal that really stands out – especially on ‘Scars’ and ‘Damn the Flood’. It’s more heavy blues than heavy metal but the attitude is the same as ever.

Killer Be Killed – Killer Be Killed

kbkWhen you hear that Max Cavalera is involved in a project you think you know what to expect, right?

Not anymore – Killer Be Killed also features Mastodon’s Troy Sanders, Dillinger Escape Plan’s Greg Puciato and Dave Elitch, formerly of The Mars Volta. the result is a contender for the metal album of the year.

With a progressive rhythm section, three vocalists and songwriting shared across the board this truly a different beast than anything Cavalera has previously touched.

At times you hear Sabbath, then it’s Fear Factory, a touch of Neurosis and even early Killswitch Engage. One thing you don’t hear is the same idea repeated.

Standout tracks for me are ‘Wings of Feather and Wax’, ‘Snakes of Jehovah’ and ‘I.E.D’, but there isn’t a weak moment to be heard. Do yourself a favour – buy it, it’s out now.

Down – Down IV Part II

Down-IV-Part-I-The-Purple-EP-coverDown have under gone changes of late. There was the loss of former Pantera bass player Rex Brown before Part I of the E.P and then, before Part II was written, the immense Kirk Windstein announced he was leaving to concentrate on his own band, Crowbar. Those changes would have killed lesser bands.

However, Down bounced back. With Patrick Bruders on bass and Bobby Landgraf on guitar they have discovered that the earlier groove that made the band so vibrant and addictive, while retaining the dirty, sleazy sludginess, has always been their signature.

Opener ‘Steeple’ reminds you that Black Sabbath are responsible for inspiring what you’re about to hear, while ‘We Knew Him Well’ is classic Down and ‘Conjure’ is a beautifully textured eight minute journey through a Lovecraftian world filled with smoke.

This is the best thing that Down have released since A Bustle In Your Hedgerow, in my humble opinion.

Overkill – White Devil Armory

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White Devil Armory is the seventeenth album from New Jersey’s thrash veterans Overkill.

It’s all you’d expect from an old school thrash band, it’s fast, it’s loud, guitars are to the fore and there’s a shred at every turn.

Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth has been a mainstay of the band and his higher pitch staccato gives you a feel for what it might be like to hear AC/DC’s Brian Johnson fronting something a little more violent.

Overkill stick with what they know and the NWOBHM influence is still very much on show, where contemporaries like Anthrax, Metallica and Testament have evolved their sound over the years these guys just keep delivering classic thrash.

The energy is relentless and every track is immediately imprinted on your cerebral cortex – chuck this in your car, put your foot down and the volume way the fuck up.

Mastodon – Once More ’Round The Sun

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Once More ‘Round The Sun is the 6th studio album from the band out of Atlanta, Georgia and more of a cohesive effort than 2011’s impressive yet clunky The Hunter.

The smell of mother nature’s finest permeates the record and it sounds like the band have been immersing themselves in a lot of 70’s Prog-Rock, not that this sounds like 70’s Prog-Rock but the influence is definitely there stronger than ever before.

The Motherload stands out as a track that’ll become a staple of the band’s live set as will Chimes at Midnight and the single High Road.

Nick Raskulinecz produced and the feel he’s brought to recent Deftones releases is evident here too, there’s a sludgy epicness to the songs and the sound.

Once More Round The Sun doesn’t quite scale the heights of Crack The Skye but you can just about touch it from here.

 

Corrosion of Conformity

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Perhaps the most famous member of Corrosion of Conformity, Pepper Keenan has sat out the last two albums from the band as he concentrates his efforts on Down.

This has meant original member Mike Dean resumes as vocalist and bass player and that the Southern influence so to the fore on Deliverance and Wise Blood takes a back seat to a more down tuned heavy blues feel. There’s more than a nod to the band’s 2nd album, the influential Animosity and as a 3-piece there seems to be more room for them to play.

The beauty is that the 3 guys on this record are the same 3 that started the band back in 1982 and that comfortable camaraderie can be felt churning away in the background on their 9th studio album.

 

Kings Arms July 20

COC seemed doomed to never make it back to New Zealand. The original financial backers pulled out and it seemed that was that but the situation was salvaged, then drummer and founder Reed Mullin damaged his shoulder and couldn’t play but the determination for the Australasian tour prevailed and Kylesa drummer Eric Hernandez was thrown into the mix on the back of three jam sessions. The result? Unadulterated stoner/doom heaven.

On their one and only previous visit to New Zealand in 2001 as support for Pantera the band was a different beast.

Pepper Keenan, was fronting the band and there was a strong southern feel to their sound, think Sabbath meets Skynyrd with some Black Flag thrown in for good measure. Now though Keenan is focused on Down so the three original members from back where it all started in 1982 are back together, recording and touring.

Mike Dean’s vocal and the absence of Keenan from writing duties mean a lot of the southern influence is gone and while the doom laden riffs echo Sabbath there’s something harder and harsher underneath. The old school hardcore sound last heard on Animosity is bubbling under the surface creating an unnerving dynamic that sits in the groove and jumps out to slap you in the face when you least expect it.

The set delivered drew predominantly from earlier albums Animosity and Technocracy and their more recent self titled effort. ‘Rat City’ opened proceedings and was followed by ‘The Moneychangers’, ‘Loss for Words’, Technocracy and ‘Holier’. ‘Deliverence’ offered something from the Keenan era but was delivered in Dean’s trademark tortured wail.

Special mention has to go to Eric Hernandez, the fill in drummer, who nailed the set. His playing with Dean sounded like it was a partnership years old and Woody Weatherman’s guitar tone was something to behold.