By Carl Begai
The first draft of this review was a pissed-off kneejerk reaction to what I initially interpreted as pop metal guardians Amaranthe trying to suck the marrow out of the success they had with “Drop Dead Cynical” from their previous album, Massive Addictive. After weeks of listening to Maximalism, I decided the record is instead about contrasts, thus giving fans an even bigger pop experience than ever before, while getting a hell of a lot heavier and more innovative at the same time.
Things start off well enough with “Maximize” but as of the second track in, “Boomerang”, things get uncomfortable beginning with a chorus that screams of the Dead Or Alive über-classic “You Spin Me Round”. It’s followed by the Queen trademarked clap-clap-thump of “We Will Rock You” as the “backbone” for first single “That Song” (the album’s low low point), followed-up with the “Drop Dead Cynical” rip-off “21”. Three head-scratchers in a row aren’t made any easier to swallow when bookended by “On The Rocks”, a party anthem that’s only one Randall Amp away from being a Ke$ha tune even though Ryd is pretty entertaining.
In a bizarre twist mid-way through Maximalism, Amaranthe blast a hole through the ceiling with “Fury” featuring Henrik Englund leading the charge and spitting venom for miles; the man’s screams are melodic death metal gold. We’re going to assume Ryd’s tip of the hat to Rihanna’s “Umbrella” in the same song is a well-placed joke. “Faster” and “Break Down And Cry” in particular recall The Nexus album’s best heavy moments, and “Supersonic” comes off as Maximalism’s most impressive track (after “Fury”) with some whacked-out(standing) Queen-esque vocal arrangements on top of the band’s trademark up-tempo delivery. “Fireball”, much like “Maximize”, is a safe Amaranthe song that displeases only those who hate the band. The album closes with an Elize solo spot on “Endlessly”, which sounds like something Disney would gladly pay a cool billion to Celine Dion to record for one of their animated films. Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
Z² from 2014 was the Devin Townsend Project’s ambitíous double album split into two very different sonic entities. Hardly a stretch for the man leading the charge, as Devin Townsend’s 20+ year music career is based on diversity, but for some fans it fell well short of some rather high expectations. Compared to other records in the Townsend / DTP catalogue Z² was a tough listen, never quite digging in, although there are some diehard fans that no doubt absorbed every note (naturally) and have already bagged this review as bullshit (naturally). Transcendence is the Devin Townsend Project’s return to form, putting things back in focus and turning in a rather prog-heavy record, opting for songs both long and short over the space of a comfortable 10 tracks.
In what seems to have become a DTP tradition of covering Townsend material, Transcendence kicks off with an updated version of “Truth” from the Infinity album (released in 1998), following up what they’ve done previously with “Hyperdrive” and “Kingdom”. From there we dive into a record reminiscent of the Epicloud album is spots with a very prominent Ocean Machine vibe all the way through. The guitar riffs and tones on “Stormbending” and “Secret Sciences” are positively fat and gorgeous, drummer Ryan van Poederooyen shines on “Failure” and “Higher” with his percussive groove madness on Transcendence’s two most adventurous tracks. “Higher” also happens to be the album’s prog mad centerpiece loaded with crushing guitars, some welcome metal vocal fireworks from Townsend, huge “Grace”-like melodies (see Epicloud), the song seemingly pulling itself in different directions over its nine minute run but ending things intact. The lone up-tempo song, “Offer Your Light” – Anneke van Giersbergen’s in-your-face guest spot – and the “Transcendence” title track are big on Ocean Machine-ry, the latter recalling the magic of tracks like “Funeral” and “Bastard”, although far more upbeat. Closing song “Transdermal Celebration” is indeed the Ween hit dressed up as a DTP track, and you would swear Townsend & Co. wrote it from scratch judging by how well it fits alongside the rest of the material on the album. Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
There was a time not so long ago when Delain was relegated to being a Dutch symphonic metal afterthought, regarded by the “experts” as a wannabe Within Temptation with a startling lack of balls and no identity. Unkind words indeed, which were eaten and subsequently choked on when the band unleashed The Human Contradiction in 2014. It didn’t merely open the door for Delain; it carved the band its own private entrance to the bigger leagues. So it goes that the follow-up, Moonbathers, was expected to fall just short of The Human Contradiction’s mark because, let’s face it, lightning doesn’t strike twice when a band is put under that kind of pressure.
Like bloody hell it doesn’t.
Having never bought into Delain’s keyboard-driven metal, The Human Contradiction was a wonderfully addictive surprise that flew in the face of my regular playlist (with the exception of Amaranthe). Perhaps it’s the freshness of the Moonbathers material, but the band has taken their songwriting and performances to a new level, particularly where vocalist Charlotte Wessels is concerned. The album grooves, bounces, croons and crushes its way through 11 tracks, displaying even more diversity than what The Human Contradiction brought to the table (which was considerable). “Hands Of Gold” featuring vocalist Alissa White-Gluz (Arch Enemy) – the only guest appearance on Moonbathers – is the perfect lead-in as a continuation to the previous record, with Wessels carrying the track through soaring melodies and gritty voice. First single “The Glory And The Scum” shows off a heavier, darker side to Delain that crops up time and again over Moonbathers’ course, contrasting sharply again the softer tracks like “Chrysalis – The Last Breath” and “The Hurricane”. The deeper you go the better the album gets, peaking with the three-point blast of “Fire With Fire” (fast and heavy), “Pendulum” (crushingly anthemic) and “Danse Macabre” (exceptional). It can’t be stressed enough that Wessels has come into her own as a singer, using her voice as a full-on instrument to bring a welcome new dimension to the Delain sound. The tribal chanting on “Danse Macabre” alone is a goosebump experience. As for the cover of Queen’s “Scandal”, the song is tailor made for Delain and guaranteed to become a live favourite. Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
A Monster’s Life is a benchmark record that dictates just how high and how far The New Black has to shoot the next time they hit the studio. Four albums into their career, the German rockers have adopted The KISS Concept (Keep It Simple, Stupid) with unexpectedly mindblowing results. Not to say they’ve existed under a cloud of suckitude up to this point, but of the delightfully old-school 10-song romp of A Monster’s Life there’s really only one track (‘A Pill Named Ting’) that falls flat. The New Black have always been more rock than metal, big on melodies and the almighty guitar riff, and they’ve managed to take their best ideas and string them together while leaving most of the unnecessary fat on the studio floor. Best guess is that Volbeat producer Jacob Hansen had a valuable hand in the carving, but credit where it’s due to the band for having the balls to keep things compact in this bloated “more is more” world.
Folks following The New Black will be pleased to hear the familiar high speed Motörhead-isms, and they’ve always had the Rocktallica feel to their sound in the spirit of Volbeat that’s so pronounced on A Monster’s Life. ‘Long Time Coming’, ‘Dead In The Water’, ‘Blockbuster Life’ and ‘Better’ are the requisite supercharged headbangers this band is so good at, while anthems ‘With A Grin’, ‘That’s Your Poison, Not Mine’ and ‘Buddha Belly’ crush anything of their kind they’ve served up before now. Favourite track of the moment is ‘The Beer Of No Return’ for bashing out everything new about The New Black in the space of three-and-a-bit minutes. And ‘Send In The Clowns’ is one of those bluesy ballad-esque tracks every rock radio band desperate for airplay would kill for. Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
Breaking Point is one of those on-the-fly releases meant to keep Amaranthe’s name in lights while they continue touring in support of their remarkably successful third album, Massive Addictive. Most fans will love it, but there’s a group of die-hard completists bound to be slightly pissed for having spent extra money on unreleased B-sides that appear here. Six acoustic tracks and two full-on metal assaults are offered up, all recorded after the respective sessions for the band’s self-titled debut, The Nexus, and Massive Addictive. Hearing concert favourite ballads ‘Amaranthine’ and ‘Burn With Me’ done up acoustic is neither amazing nor disappointing; they’re well written songs played effectively as reduced to their most basic elements. The acoustic rendition of ‘True’ from Massive Addictive, on the other hand, is a startling stripped down version featuring voices and piano up front with the spotlight (unexpectedly) favouring vocalist Jake E. It’s actually preferable to the original version.
The two full metal songs on Breaking Point, the title track and ‘Splinter In My Soul’, originally surfaced as bonus tracks for the Japanese version of Amaranthe’s self-titled debut and their 2011 single ‘Rain’, therefore featuring original growler Andy Solveström in place of current rage vocalist Henrik Englund. Again, not a bad pair of songs, but it’s easy to understand why the tracks were never tagged as final album cuts, as they lack that elusive “something” to make them click. It would, however, be interesting to hear ‘Splinter In My Soul’ in a live setting with all its rampant Soilwork-ishness. Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
Twenty years ago I wrote a review for Slik Toxik’s second full length album, Irrelevant. It was a darker and dirtier record compared to their official debut, Doin’ The Nasty, written and released at a time when hair metal / cock rock bands were well into taking a beating from the grunge scene takeover. Irrelevant failed to make the same impact its predecessor had, and ultimately turned out to be Slik Toxik’s swansong. Looking back on said review in the wake of Perris Records opting to release a 20th Anniversary edition of the record, two things are readily apparent: I knew what I was talking about even as a wide-eyed newbie to the music biz, and Slik Toxik were way ahead of their time.
And thanks to the internet age I’m not restricted to a tiny column in trying to explain why Irrelevant works, units sold in the past be damned.
As stated in my original review (photo below), Irrelevant was a diverse platter that deftly avoided being a scene-sucking travesty with regards to their roots (that’s what I tried to say, at any rate). On the one hand Slik Toxik went from being cock rock to a nailgun-carrying metal band, quite unexpectedly bashing people over the head with ‘Twentysomething’, ‘I Wanna Gun’, ‘Kill The Pain’, ‘Fashioned After None’ and ‘Just Fade Away’. The bigger shock, however, turned out to be tracks like the introspective ballad ‘Liquid Calm’, the smokey bar blues of ‘Blue Monday’, and the acoustic led south bent ‘Mother Machine’. Less surprising was the drive towards Alice In Chains territory with ‘Dive’ and ‘Drained’ given the times, the latter being the weakest song on Irrelevant. Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
Best known as the voice and attitude of full-on traditional metal bashers Benedictum, Veronica Freeman has traded in the leather, chains and knee-high bitch boots for a romp with presumably tamer melodic rock/metal. Teaming up with a host of accomplished musicians / songwriters including Pete Wells (Benedictum), Jeff Pilson (Foreigner, ex-Dokken), Michael Sweet (Stryper) and Mike Lepond (Symphony X) to name a few, Freeman has put out a genuinely strong first solo effort boasting the ’70s / ’80s vibes and flavours of classic KISS, Dokken, a bit of AC/DC, and even present day Stryper. The 12-track album features Freeman pulling back on her raging Ronnie James Dio-esque voice just enough for a more soulful delivery suited for this type of rawk, but by no means does it soften any of the blows delivered. Think a pissed off Anastacia backed by walls of distortion and guitar shred, which is a very good thing. But, her familiar in-your-face roar is most certainly part of this production, unleashed as needed.
Now Or Never features two songs co-written with Michael Sweet, with ‘Again’ kicking things off and ‘Love Should Be To Blame’ surfacing mid-album; both could have made the cut for Stryper’s recent No More Hell To Pay record. ‘Roller Coaster’ is reminiscent of classic Destroyer-era KISS, ‘Kiss My Lips’ (featuring Chastain singer Leather Leone guesting) has more groove than every track on the new AC/DC record, and the (real) album-closing salvo of ‘Ready To Run’ is reminiscent of early, early Dokken’s classic ‘Live To Rock (Rock To Live)’. Continue Reading
When Kamelot released Silverthorn in 2012 it was a make-or-break affair as they navigated the debris left behind following the ambitious yet ultimately stagnant Poetry For The Poisoned album and the departure of vocalist Roy Khan. A record loaded to the teeth with every weapon in the Kamelot arsenal, Silverthorn was perhaps too epic for its own good at times, but it succeeded in winning over the vast majority of fans left heartbroken and skeptical by Khan’s departure. Haven finds Kamelot trimming away a lot of the Silver-fat in favour of a sound more in line with The Fourth Legacy, Karma or The Black Halo, beefing up the guitar / bass / keys / drums while reducing the symphonics to a Use In Case Of A Damn Good Idea capacity. Vocalist Tommy Karevik is given far more space to shine on Haven compared to his Silverthorn debut, making for a much stronger album on that score alone.
All that said, fact is nobody is going to be mindblown by Haven the first time through (if you say you were, you’re a bullshit artist). It’s a gradual build with lead-off tracks ‘Fallen Star’ and ‘Insomnia’ – which don’t have the blow-the-doors of speed of previous album openers ‘Center Of The Universe’ and ‘Forever’ – groove-pounding the listener into the new Kamelot comfort zone (with no done-to-death orchestral track to kick things off… thank you). Interesting as well that the band waits four tracks to unleash Haven’s first stormer, ‘Veil Of Elysium’ – which sounds like the less evil twin to Silverthorn’s ‘Sacrimony’ – one of only two (!!) to be had on the entire album. And this is the addictive nature of Haven; for all the threads you can weave back to previous album, Kamelot keep you guessing as to what you’re going to get, and how and when it’s going to be served up. Unexpected and bloody impressive at this stage of the game. Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
Ingolstadt, Germany: March 10th, 2015
So, show #1 of Rock Meets Classic 2015 is in the books. As expected there were the usual first show glitches, missed cues and general stiffness, but it promises to be one of the best RMC tours yet (and the last two years are pretty damn hard to top). Looking forward to see how this monster grows.
Noteworthy bits and bites:
– by far the best intro performance Rock Meets Classic has ever had. Doing up ‘Thunderstruck’ Apocalyptica-style = brilliant.
– Marc Storace of Krokus singing ‘Long Stick Goes Boom’ backed by an orchestra? Gold.
– Asia frontman John Wetton sounds exactly the same as 30 years ago. Killer.
– Mat Sinner smiles a lot.
– Mr. Big vocalist Eric Martin has way too much fun for one person. By mid-tour ‘To Be With You’ is going to be epic. The backing vocalists blew the roof off on ‘Green Tinted Sixties Mind’ (nice going Amanda, Tiffany, Kolinda and Sascha… mind blown).
– hails to guitarist Oliver Hartmann for remembering “the note” during the solo for ‘To Be With You’. Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
With each Danko Jones release it’s not an issue of whether the new album is point blank good or bad, but rather how well it stacks up against its predecessors. Like KISS, AC/DC or Motörhead, Danko Jones have made a career of avoiding the use of rocket science in favour of the keep-it-simple-stupid vocals / guitars / bass / drums formula, and new (seventh) record Fire Music continues this tradition. While some folks may chafe at the idea of the Canuck trio being mentioned in the same line as rock / metal royalty, there’s no escaping the fact frontman Danko, bassist JC, and the latest drummer of choice (Rich Knox, please stick around) have earned their longevity rather than living off of YouTube views and Facebook likes padded by Beliebers.
It’s gotta be said that lead-off track ‘Wild Woman’ is standard fare for any Danko Jones release; no great shakes on the one hand but a smart move easing the fans into Fire Music as all bets are off from track #2 onwards. Frontman Jones has gone on record stating that a several songs on the album were inspired / influenced by the Misfits, and it most certainly shows. ‘The Twisting Knife’ followed in rapid succession by ‘Gonna Be A Fight Tonight’ and ‘Body Bags’ amount to almost 10 minutes of punk energy gift-wrapped in singalong attitude, echoed later on the album with equally speed-crazed ‘Piranha’ and ‘Watch You Slide’. Continue Reading