CYNTHIA NICKSCHAS – Egoschwein

German singer / songwriter Cynthia Nickschas’ 2018 album, Egoschwein, may well be the most punk thing to ever hit my sound system. And there isn’t a single hint of in-your-face distortion to be heard.

I’m definitely late to the party on this one, but I’ve found that in between the bouts of Arch Enemy, Children Of Bodom, Soilwork, Warrior Soul, Moonspell and Cradle Of Filth that shake the walls of my office on a regular basis, Egoschwein is a wonderful way to cleanse my musical pallet and educate my ears a little bit more.

Nickschas is a live performer first and foremost, dishing out her own unique brand of acoustic-based big-band blues-infused-jazz. Egoschwein sounds like it was recorded live off the floor, particularly the vocals, which have a smoke-and-whiskey edge one expects to hear from the stage, not from a polished studio recording. Any notes or tones that sound slightly off – a hair flat or a tad sharp – only add to the organic feel of the songs. She’s often reminiscent of Patti Smith circa 1979 crossed with classic Tracy Chapman, making for a sound all her own. Instrumentally, the album is loaded with musical fireworks and gentle nuance backing the acoustic guitar / bass / drums core with saxophone, violin (fiddle for you heathens), piano, some clean electric guitar, and a healthy dose of vocal ad-libs from Nickschas. While the songs stand on their own as solo / duo acoustic renditions – often performed that way – the full band adds a whole new dimension to the tracks, making them so much stronger.

Opening track “Musik” and “Jamsessions” are perhaps the best introduction to what Nickschas does. The former is big on groove, the latter a straightforward up-tempo track, both featuring brilliant band arrangements and Nickschas going from vocally tender to growl and back again. Title track “Egoschwein” sounds like it was pulled out of a ’70s New York lounge bar thanks to the acoustic / bass groove and saxophone. “Alles Gleich Mensch” is another standout track, with Nickschas’ lyrical delivery a lesson in how to write an infectious song (which happens several times on the album). “Wind” and “Träume” are two songs that snuck up on me, not really making an impression the first time through but have since become favourites, both of them very different from one another. The dark vocal melodies from “Träume” coupled with the harmonies are stunning. My favourite track on Egoschwein, however, is “Es Läuft”; it’s the acoustic big band jazz song that German punk legends Die Toten Hosen wish they had written. And again, the improv vocal bits put a stupid grin on my face because it’s the sound of someone loving what she does. Call it Nickschas at her finest on this record, at least from where I sit.

For those that understand German, Egoschwein may come as something of a surprise. This is not an album loaded with dumb boy-girl lyrics, tales of unrequited love, or wet dream fantasies. Nope, for her early 30-ish years, Nickschas is dangerously down to earth, offering her perceptions of real life without getting political (which is fantastic) and delivering those thoughts with razor sharp attitude or tenderness as the theme calls for it (refer to my previous “punk” comment). In this regard, folks that don’t understand the language are missing out on the work of a talented wordsmith. Respect.

Egoschwein is too long for my taste – 14 tracks total – but there are plenty of Cynthia Nickschas fans that’ll tell me to stick my “complaint” where the sun doesn’t shine. Bottom line is that she deserves to be much better known than she is, and the album is merely a showcase of what Cynthia Nickschas & Friends deliver on stage. I challenge promoters in both Germany and abroad to book her for shows or festival dates. The excuses “She doesn’t sound like what’s popular…” and “But she only sings in German…” are bullshit in a world where music is the universal language.

M.I.GOD. – Specters On Parade

By Carl Begai

Germany’s M.I.GOD. have been kicking around since 2001, having released a handful of albums worthy of their small and loyal following, but nothing to make the jaded journalist stand up and take note for more than a few heartbeats. Until now. Specters On Parade is not only the best album of their career – their first since 2012 – it’s one of those records where people in-the-know wonder why in the hell M.I.GOD. hasn’t been picked up by a big label and put on a well-deserved promo pedestal.

Specters On Parade is a bold concept album featuring 20 tracks – ten full songs separated by brief soundscapes – that focuses on the protagonist’s internal battle with his mind. Heavy, melodic and dark, vocalist Max Chemnitz proves to be remarkably versatile with his mid-range, which is two steps shy of being one of those smoky goth voices yet all metal right up to hitting the highs, and using death metal growls as a nuance rather than part of the big picture (brilliant decision). Likewise, guitarists Uli Holzermer and Dan Hess shine from beginning to end, whether it’s charging in as riff monsters, playing it soft, or soundtrack atmospheric. Guitar riffs and tones range anywhere from Queensryche to Dream Theater to Devin Townsend to Static X depending on the song, and it has to be said that drummer Eric Wunderlich stands out in a very Portnoy / Rockenfield way, providing a solid metal backbone without being overbearing. Continue reading M.I.GOD. – Specters On Parade

DOUBLE CRUSH SYNDROME – Die For Rock N’ Roll

By Carl Begai

Fronted by former Sodom guitarist Andy Brings – from the Tapping The Vein and Get What You Deserve albums – Double Crush Sydrome is Germany’s version of Danko Jones; a solid three-piece rock band with corpse-glam painted punk tendencies backed by a solid metalhead pedigree. Active since 2013, the band is finally making some serious headway with this first official album featuring updated tracks from their 2013 independent release, The You Filter, and brand new songs. Die For Rock N’ Roll kicks off with the Skid Row-does-Ramones sounding “Gimme Everything” and remains full steam ahead through the title track, “Unfriend Me Now” and “She’s A Pistol”, gaining momentum and dynamics as it goes. Aside from sporting a clever title, “On Top Of Mount Whateverest” shows off the DCS penchant for sidestepping predictability, with bassist (and Brings’ former Traceelords bandmate) Slick adding his voice to the proceedings and the band tying things off with a mighty metal outro. The Danko Jones punch of “Yeah! Pain!” is followed by the unexpectedly cheesy (and first official single) “I Wanna Be Your Monkey”, which has legs for miles as a live track and is bound to become a singalong show closer. “Slow Suicide” is the exact opposite, dark and destined to surprise some people given the album’s party vibe with its “please kill yourself” bridge. And so it goes on the Die For Rock N’ Roll rock n’ rollercoaster from the moment it leaves the gate. Continue reading DOUBLE CRUSH SYNDROME – Die For Rock N’ Roll

FALL OF CARTHAGE – The Longed-For Reckoning

By Carl Begai

Following up their respectable low-key 2015 debut, Behold, the German trio Fall Of Carthage return with a thundering second record that quite frankly puts album #1 to shame. Everything about The Longed-For Reckoning is bigger, better, and loaded with major league potential. Best to leave the genre-specific tags, stamps and brands in the box; Fall Of Carthage are a no-nonsense bordering-on-brutal metal band, as they encompass and embrace the groove and thrash that made Testament, Pantera and Machine Head go-to bands for rivet-heads the world over. Additionally, there are dozens of crushing moments reminiscent of guitarist James Murphy’s classic Convergence album. Quite the victory for guitarist Arkadius Antonik, who is currently celebrating a 20 year career under his belt as the frontman and brainchild behind folk metal veterans Suidakra. Fall Of Carthage gives him the chance to simply shut up and play, cranking out some of the juiciest riffs of his existence since Suidakra’s classic Emprise To Avalon album released way back in 2002.

And the song arrangements…. prepare for a rollercoaster ride thanks to drummer Martin Buchwalter, who goes beyond anything he’s done with Perzonal War. Grab a listen to “Turning Point”, “Dust And Dirt” and “Fast Forward” for an overview of what to expect, then prepare to be knocked ass over teacup as you wind your way through the record. Continue reading FALL OF CARTHAGE – The Longed-For Reckoning

AMARANTHE – Maximalism

By Carl Begai

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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 AMARANTHE – Maximalism

DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT – Transcendence

By Carl Begai

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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 DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT – Transcendence

DELAIN – Moonbathers

By Carl Begai

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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 DELAIN – Moonbathers

THE NEW BLACK – A Monster’s Life

By Carl Begai

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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 THE NEW BLACK – A Monster’s Life

AMARANTHE – Breaking Point: B-Sides 2011-2015

By Carl Begai

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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 AMARANTHE – Breaking Point: B-Sides 2011-2015

SLIK TOXIK – Irrelevant (20 Something Anniversary Re-Issue)

By Carl Begai

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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 SLIK TOXIK – Irrelevant (20 Something Anniversary Re-Issue)