Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Valkyrie - Man Of Two Visions (2008)

I really wanted to love this album. It's just the sort of thing I would. Ostensibly doom metal, it's basically a combination of the St. Vitus/Pentagram kind of sound, lots of Thin Lizzy, some NWOBHM - a more mid-tempo version of Slough Feg, maybe, or kissing-cousins to Witchcraft.

The problem is, the album never really seems to get going. There's two nice, chuggy enough songs to begin with - but they feel more like warm-ups. Then, just when you're ready for the main course, there's an instrumental. It's dreamy and a bit insubstantial. Then comes the centrepiece of the album, 'Apocalypse Unleashed', a totally brilliant Thin Lizzyesque epic, all groovy riffing and folksy melody. It seems like the party is finally under way, even if the next song, while good, isn't up to the same level. Then - kaPOW - another instrumental! A nice little acoustic workout, but one that begins to overstay its welcome at over 5 minutes. Fortunately, the title track, which closes the album, is another knockout, but that's not enough punch to make for a really classic album. And at just around 37 minutes, this is a pretty concise offering in any case.

Of course, what there is of this album ranges from the nice, if disposable, to the really quite cool. It doesn't descend into tedium, but it never really scales the heights either. A decent filler between doom metal/classic-style heavy metal main features.


eiderdown on the upside

I find I'm just happier reviewing stuff in my own tiny corner, at least for now. So, we ride again. Under the eiderdown.

Chrome Division - Booze, Broads & Beelzebub (2008)

What black metallers will get up to when left to their own devices...

The thing about dirty 80s-style hard rock is that it's made the transition into being an alive-and-well genre in the 21st century a lot better than all the hip new shit people cast it aside for in the 90s. Look at Spiritual Beggars. Alabama Thunderpussy. Grand Magus. And now, Chrome Division.

The major cited influence is, of course, Motorhead, and the foursquare, rocking riffs and gruff vocals do bear some of the Moley One's stamp. But I hear traces of WASP too, or Motley Crue in their more rocking, sleazy moments, or maybe a Simmons-fronted KISS. Oddly, the ZZ Top cover, 'Sharp-Dressed Man' is a bit of letdown. All they do is speed it up a bit and lose some of the groove.

In many ways this album feels like what The Almighty could have been if they'd managed to get their groove on this convincingly for a whole album's worth of songs. Eddie Guz' hard-rocking persona reminds me quite a bit of Ricky Warwick's throaty roar. The difference - and what makes Chrome Division work - is that the agenda here is fun. Booze, broads and Beelzebub. There's no slowing down the pace to rip out a soulful number, or a sudden integrity-seeking veer into punky aggro. It's just dirty rock n' roll from start to finish.


Monday, October 15, 2007

my reviews, now at kvltblog

This place has made this place mostly redundant.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

or how about 'should I stay or should I go'?

Have you ever thought about your funeral?

I'm guessing anyone reading this probably has, since you most likely share some of my tastes for dark music (without, I trust, being anything so cheesy as a Goth or suchlike). If you're anything like me, your main concern hasn't been the colour of the pallbearer's costumes, the wooden logs vs. electric crematorium debate, or whether towers of silence really attract the class of vulture they used to, but what music should be played at that solemn occasion.

For the longest time, I used to favour the song 'Don't Follow' by Alice In Chains, off their Jar Of Flies EP. It's a beautiful, sad and even elegiac acoustic ballad, soaked through with mournful harmonica and sweet, sad country-tinged harmonies. It also has a take-off at the end that builds to one of the most spiritually moving moments on any grunge-era record - and I say this as a conformed sceptic and disbeliever in all things spiritual.

I still think it's a beautiful song, one that brings a tear, or at least a speck of dust to my eye each time I hear it. But I'm not so sure it would be right to appropriate it as my funeral song anymore. It seems more fitting as an epitaph to Layne Staley, as do a surprising number of Alice In Chains' songs, in retrospect. In any case, the song is shot through with a deep unhappiness, a depth of sorrow that I probably can't equal, having never locked myself away in my house to picnic on stale pizzas and heroin, or played guitar on a later-day Ozzy Osbourne album.

Sometimes, I incline towards the apocalyptic deathbed bravado of Nick Cave's song 'Lay Me Low', off his Let Love In album. It's the song of an unrepentant sinner, imagining the upwelling of denunciation, hatred and relief that will follow his death. 'They'll interview my teachers,' Nick Cave intones, deadpan, 'Who'll say I was one of god's sorrier creatures, they'll print informative six-page features, when I go...'. It would be incredibly cocky and funny to have that played at my funeral, but perhaps in questionable taste. I'm still considering it, though.

Lately, however, I've been very taken with a song off David Gilmour's last solo album, On An Island. Gilmour, apart from being a surprisingly mellow guy for someone how used to play for the world's most neurotic band, is also an avowed atheist, and his song, 'This Heaven' speaks of the contentment and integrity that someone with no imaginary friends in the sky can find in a life well-lived. 'This earthly heaven is enough for me', and that's what I'd like the people who will be there to remember - that I held no faith in some reward to come, but tried to find my fulfillment in what this world has to offer. If there ever was a heaven for an atheist, I would already have been in it, to the extent that I managed to live according to my ideals and fulfill my dreams.

And after that, I'd want them to let loose with Obituary's 'Slowly We Rot'...

What about you? What would you like to have played at your funeral, and why?

Sunday, June 10, 2007

It's going to be a while before I can consistently update this blog again - I'm getting married later this month. In the meantime, here's a list of what I'm listening to frequently right now, for no real reason:

Gojira: The Link, From Mars To Sirius
Candlemass: Tales Of Creation, Nightfall
Neurosis: Given To The Rising
Autopsy: Mental Funeral
Saxon: The Inner Sanctum
Deicide: Incineratehymn
A whole mess of blues including Lightning Hopkins, Memphis Slim and Howling Wolf

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Ensiferum: 'Victory Songs'

Finns are Funn! When other Scandiavians tap into their heritage for metal inspiration, you get the church-burning shenanigans of tr00 black metal, or less extreme, the sculling-beer-and-slaying-christians exuberance of Amon Amarth. With the Finns, however, you get the glorious polka-metal hoot that is Finntroll, and, just as wonderfully cheessy if less of a novelty act, Ensiferum's giddily-gallopping brand of folk metal. Combining rollicking folksy melodies with propulsive metal rhythms, and screechy/growly vocals backed by heroic male choruses, they achieve a rather amusing blend of earnest tunefulness and catchy metal posturing that works more often than not, on its own terms. The atmospheric intro, 'Ad Victoriam', sets the tone perfectly, with its soaring, striviing synth-flute melodies and slow build. 'Deathbringer From The Sky' boasts some genuinely cool riffing and a neat transition into acoustic folk melodies, while 'Ahti', an ode to a deity from the Finnish pantheon is surprisingly effective for essentially being the same melody played for nearly 4 minutes with different metal band dynamics to vary things. 'Wanderer' is almost affecting at times with its mid-tempo heroism, but things do begin to stale halfway through the album. This style is very close to the predictable romps of Gothenburg bands like Children Of Bodom or In Flames. For a listener like me, those incessant galloping rhythms and we-don-tknow-no-diminisheds melodies, without a single exotic note choice, can get pretty stultifying after some time, like a shoving in a whole CD of jigs & reels in the middle of a mosh session. One problem I have with these bands is that they go too gllefully for the easy hook and melody, without really challenging you or themselves with unexpected harmonic combinations or tonal choices. It's pretty much vanilla European tunesmithery throughout, and that can pall a bit. The album-closing title song, at a length of 10 and a half minutes exposes the limits of this approach. Rather than seeming epic, it becomes merely tedious with its lack of surprise or even the slightest variation from a set path. That chorus will probably lodge in your head for a while, but a lot more balls and innovation would help. This certainly isn't on par with bands like Skyclad and the likes who brought real inventiveness to their folk metal music, and a lyrical sensibility that went beyond recounting past glories, or Slough Feg, who combine essentially the same approach as Ensiferum with a much more gutsy and raw NOWBHM touch.

To sum up, decent cheese, but not the best.