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Album Review: AVENGED SEVENFOLD’s ‘Hail To The King’

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Controversy has surrounded Avenged Sevenfold’s latest effort since the Internet first saw guitarist Synyster Gates with short hair.

Then came the chaos surrounding the album artwork, with many claiming that the cover had ripped off Lich King’s “World Gone Dead”.  Sevenfold later changed the album cover.

The single and title track, “Hail to the King” was released to mixed-to-positive reception, with many insisting that the new drummer Arin Ilejay’s work was too simplistic. But M. Shadows insisted that the straightforward drum parts were intentional, because the new record would sound like classic 80s hard rock and heavy metal.

Regardless, the metal world just had to see—rather, hear—how this new album would turn out. It was Sevenfold’s first album with a permanent drummer since Jimmy “The Rev” Sullivan passed away in late 2009. Ex-Dream Theater powerhouse Mike Portnoy hit the skins on A7X’s previous work, “Nightmare,” which was a massive hit. How would they follow up?

“Shepherd of Fire” is a very powerful start to the album, possibly even better than the single and title track.  The album starts off with the sound of rain and Synyster Gates’ and Zacky Vengeance’s dual guitar leads and Johnny Christ’s rumbling bass. “Shepherd” is very old school and the Iron Maiden influences are very apparent. Singer M. Shadows was correct when he said the album would have a classic hard rock/metal feel combined with the band’s signature sound.

“Hail To the King,” the first single from this album, is next. Though it has Gates’ and Vengeance’s trademark guitar runs, it lacks the power of the first track. When the single was first released, many complained that the Arin Ilejay’s drum work was too simplistic compared to The Rev’s and Mike Portnoy’s (who played on “Nightmare”). Shadows contended that the straightforward drum parts were intentional and meant to make the record sound more 80s metal influenced. After hearing the first track, this makes more sense in the context of the entire album. The production is magnificently crisp. The song can be heard below.

 

“Doing Time” sounds like a mixture of Black Sabbath and Guns N’ Roses with a “Paranoid”-esque riff and Shadows’ spoken intro. The octave vocal harmonies, Shadows’ nasal delivery, and shrieks are very reminiscent of “Appetite For Destruction” Axl Rose. It is a decent song but lacks panache compared to the other two songs.

Slow, beautiful guitar harmonies open “This Means War”. It then evolves into a powerful mid-tempo anthem, like a combination of two earlier Sevenfold songs, “Welcome to the Family” and “Girl I Know”.  The Iron Maiden influence is also evident in this song, with soaring vocal melodies, cleaner singing, and dueling guitars.  The lyrics are pretty awesome: “There’s nothing here for free – Lost who I want to be / My serpent blood can strike so cold / On any given day – I’ll take it all away / Another thought I can’t control”.

“Requiem” opens with a choir singing Gregorian chant, possibly borrowing from Ghost B.C., who Sevenfold will be touring with later this year. A fragment of this song could be heard in one of the albums previews the band released a few months back. Epic strings compliment Synyster Gate’s leads, making the song sound like a more updated version of something off of Ozzy’s “Diary of a Madman”.

The ballad “Crimson Day” opens with a clean intro, kind of reminding me of Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters”.  It is more powerful and poignant than Sevenfold’s best-known ballad, “Seize the Day,” and may even appeal to country audiences. It could be a crossover hit.

“Heretic” takes us back to signature Sevenfold-sounding territory. With rawer production, it would fit right at home on “City of Evil”.  This song showcases how much Shadows has progressed as a singer since then. The acoustic guitar interlude matching underneath the dual guitar riffs remind me of the middle section of Megadeth’s “Reckoning Day”, once again displaying Sevenfold’s 80s metal influences. Synsyter Gates cements his status as a guitar god with this track.

“Coming Home” also wears Iron Maiden influences on its sleeve while still retaining aspects of Sevenfold’s “City Of Evil”-era sound.  We also get to hear some more complex drumming, with Ilejay’s double bass footwork.

“Planets” starts with an interesting drum beat and horns and guitars dancing from the left to right headphones and back, another example of the all the thought that went into the production of this album. The result is an apocalyptic, dissonant, half-thrash-influenced, half-prog thing. It is definitely experimental, even by Sevenfold standards (“A Little Piece of Heaven,” anyone?), and may have to grow on the listener.

“Acid Rain” opens with a piano playing a minor progression of chords. Then dreamy strings kick in, and Synyster plays a very bluesy Slash-sounding solo before Shadows starts singing. It is beautifully melodramatic, almost cabaretish—like if Electric Light Orchestra’s “Mr. Blue Sky” and Guns N’ Roses’ “November Rain” had a bastard child. Who knows if having a piano-based track close the album will be an ongoing trend for Sevenfold (“Fiction” closed their previous album, “Nightmare”).  If so, it is definitely something to look forward to. The album ends with one of its most memorable songs, but the listener is still left wanting more.

Is “Hail to the King” “City Of Evil 2”? No. It’s far more diverse than that and could seem a tad too overproduced at times.

Is it better than “Nightmare”? Yes and no, depending on your individual taste. It is more experimental, which could appeal to some and turn others off.

Is this album one of the best metal albums of 2013 so far? It is a possible contender, but we’ll have to wait and see.

FINAL VERDICT: 8.5/10

Track listing:

  1. Shepherd Of Fire
  2. Hail To The King
  3. Doing Time
  4. This Means War
  5. Requiem
  6. Crimson Day
  7. Heretic
  8. Coming Home
  9. Planets
  10. Acid Rain
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Album Review: CHILDREN OF BODOM’s “Halo of Blood” (Deluxe Edition)

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Finnish melodeath band Children of Bodom is back with a vengeance, releasing possibly their best album in over a decade. “Halo of Blood” shows how CoB has matured musically while still maintaining their aggression and sense of humor.

“Waste of Skin” and “Halo of Blood” start off the album with an aggressive one-two punch, where the keyboards take somewhat of a backseat. Alexi Laiho screams over machine gun drums and melodic dual guitar riffs. Whereas “Waste of Skin” makes one nod and say, “Yep, this is Bodom,” “Halo of Blood” seems too busy at times with its very syncopated rhythms (possibly a drummer’s wet dream).

“Scream for Silence” takes the speed down a notch, but nicely. The keyboards are more noticeable in this song than in the previous two, which lacked a keyboard solo. Interesting lead harmonies complement intense lyrics like, “If you need to feed on pain, you might as well tap my vein.” This track is probably the most radio-friendly of the album and would have made a better single than “Transference”. It ends with a nice Slayer-esque guitar riff and people chanting “Kill! Kill!” Very Bodom indeed.

“Transference” was the choice for the first single of the album. While it still has the elements that differentiate CoB from other bands (chromatic guitar and keyboard runs, leads complementing Laiho’s vocals), it is just ok. It is probably, musically, the simplest song on the album, and that may have been a factor as to why it was chosen as the lead single.

“Bodom Blue Moon” and “The Days Are Numbered” both sound like they could have come straight off “Hatebreeder” (1999). They both possess hypnotic keyboards and are technical eargasms, with the latter possessing more neoclassical elements. Lyrics like, “Your name on my blade I won’t erase / Until I get to cut my name on your face” would make metalheads proudly nod and say, “F**k yeah” to themselves.

“Dead Man’s Hand on You” is definitely the most experimental track on the album, sounding more akin to Marilyn Manson than CoB at the beginning. Laiho doesn’t even scream on this one at the start and is accompanied by acoustic guitars and a piano. But the lyrics, about a twisted proposal to the goddess Mother Kali, showcase CoB’s sense of humor quite nicely: “I’ll be more than just a dead man’s hand on you… Love me one more time and I’ll let you kill me too.”

The last three tracks, “Damaged Beyond Repair,” “All Twisted,” and “One Bottle and a Knee Deep,” all sound like they could be on “Follow the Reaper”. “All Twisted” in particular has a “Hate Me!” vibe and similar riff work.

“Sleeping in My Car” is a Roxette cover and the bonus track on this edition of the album. (What is Children of Bodom without covering pop songs and making them metal?) It is a suitable end to “Halo of Blood,” because this album encompasses elements of CoB’s entire discography, including humorous covers. Instead of Roxette sweetly crooning, “The night is so pretty and so young,” the refrain sounds like it was uttered by a drunken vampire in Bodom’s version. The song ends with the solo from Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'”.

The “Making of” DVD (the second disc) is a nice treat. The viewer gets to see the band fooling around in the studio, but also witness just how self-deprecating these incredible musicians and their crew can be. At one point, the producer exclaims, “Finally this band has a good bass sound!”

“Halo of Blood” is a great album that will definitely please the Hate Crew. It is their best work in years.

FINAL VERDICT: 8.5/10

Track listing:
1. Waste of Skin
2. Halo of Blood
3. Scream for Silence
4. Transference
5. Bodom Blue Moon (the second coming)
6. The Days Are Numbered
7. Dead Man’s Hand on You
8. Damaged Beyond Repair
9. All Twisted
10. One Bottle and a Knee Deep
11. Sleeping in My Car (Roxette cover) (Bonus Track)


Album Review: MEGADETH “Super Collider” Deluxe Edition (2013)

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Before I begin this review, let me make my biases known.

I am a major-league Megadeth fan. I am a card-carrying member of the Megadeth Cyber Army. If you look at the “about” page of this blog, you will see me happily nestled between the two MegaDaves, singer/guitarist Dave Mustaine and bassist David Ellefson.

Naturally, I was very excited about the release of the band’s latest effort, Super Collider.

With Super Collider, you can’t just say something like, “It’s Cryptic Writings-meets-Th1rt3en” and be accurate. SC is truly a culmination of all things ‘Deth, with some flashbacks to their thrashier days, elements of their more melodic and experimental albums like Risk, and the newer 2000s material. If you were expecting Rust in Peace II, you will be disappointed. But if you approach it with an open mind, you might be pleased.

SC kicks off with “Kingmaker”, which was released as a single approximately two weeks ago. It renewed people’s faith in Super Collider after so many had been disillusioned by the previous single, the 70s-road-trip-rock title track. “Kingmaker” is like a cross between Black Sabbath’s “Children of the Grave” and ‘Deth’s own “Sweating Bullets,” a tribute to the band’s own musical heritage while adding the thrash elements Megadeth have become known for.

Then comes the infamous “Super Collider,” in a very stark contrast to the opening song. For those who haven’t heard it, it sounds more like Foghat than Megadeth. It’s a middle-of-the-road hard rock song that doesn’t really go anywhere. Mustaine revealed that the band filmed a humorous music video to promote the lead single, and perhaps his intention behind the song will be known once the video is released.

The title “Burn!” sounds like Mustaine’s yell in “Take No Prisoners,” but the song itself is an average rocker, with a chorus that feels more at home in a KISS, Motley Crüe, or even a disco song (“Burn, baby burn… ’cause it feels so good”).

“Built For War” is definitely the worst song on the album, maybe even Megadeth’s worst song, period. Meme Theater posted a review of the album right after it leaked, and their critique of this track says it all:

“…it feels like there was Megadeth playing a toned down Megadeth song in one room while Dave Mustaine sings an unrelated melody and lyrical arrangement in another room, while a 2ND DAVE MUSTAINE stood in yet another separate room in said ‘Built for War!’ at random times, as bored as possible…”

“Off the Edge” has a very nice, dark intro and segues into an average metal song but with sub-par lyrics, at least for Megadeth (“Lately, it seems the world is going crazy / It won’t be long till they replace me / And nothing seems to faze me, anymore”). Think of “Fast Lane” from Th1rt3en, but with worse lyrics.

“Dance in the Rain” is the turning point of this album. David Draiman (Disturbed, Device) lends songwriting and guest vocals to this amazing song, which is one of Megadeth’s best since Youthanasia. The song is about American politicians/government taking advantage of We The People as we struggle to make ends meet. It reminds me why I love Megadeth in the first place: chugging guitar rhythms, Shawn Drover’s fast feet at the double bass drums, Chris Broderick’s wailing leads perfectly complementing Dave Mustaine’s eternally stark lyrics. The song starts off slow and progressively speeds up, eventually ripping into a blazing riff and brutal drums backing Draiman’s powerhouse vocals. It would be right at home on United Abominations or Endgame.

“Beginning of Sorrow” is another good , somewhat slow song with heavy lyrical content, about a neglected child. Mustaine’s daughter Electra contributes some backing vocals.

“The Blackest Crow” is one of the most anticipated songs on this album, since video previews on the band’s website showed instruments like a banjo, fiddle, and slide guitar being used. There were also talks of country legend Willie Nelson guesting on this track. Though Nelson did not appear, the song does its hype justice, serving as a strange but pleasant bridge between bluegrass and heavy metal.

Mustaine wrote “Forget To Remember” about his mother-in-law, who has Alzheimer’s disease. Though it is an upbeat song for Megadeth, the lyrics are some of their most poignant: “If this is living, what the hell is living for? / You’ve boarded up your eyes, your mind has locked the door”. Broderick’s fills and Mustaine’s voice are beautifully in sync, with the fogginess of some of Mustaine’s vocal lines possibly representing the fogginess of the woman’s memory. This is definitely a highlight of the album, though it is more radio-friendly than most Deth fans are used to.

“Don’t Turn Your Back…” starts off with an impressive bluesy guitar solo and progresses into a badass riff, then into a poppy chorus with more cheesy lyrics (“The best advice I can lend is / Don’t ever turn your back on a friend”). Kinda My Little Pony for Megadeth, even though the musical elements are fantastic.

Though “Cold Sweat” is a Thin Lizzy cover, ironically, it is one of the most Megadeth-sounding songs on the album. Great cover that sounds at home on Endgame.

“All I Want”, the first bonus track, has a vibe similar to Th1rt3en’s “Wrecker” and has obvious KISS influences in the lyrics (“We took off on a rocket ride”). Decent medium-tempo metal song.

“A House Divided” should have been released on all versions of the album. It is truly a shame that it is only available on the deluxe edition. It has an interesting trumpet intro by Bob Findley (who played on Megadeth’s “Silent Scorn”), and like “Dance in the Rain,” reminds me why I’m a fan of this band. Once again, Mustaine sings about injustice (“This is a sad day for violence / When speech results in silence”) as gang vocals creepily chant “We all know something’s wrong” in the background. It gave me goosebumps. It is a suiting finale to the new material.

The final track is a live version of “Countdown to Extinction,” recorded in Pomona, Calif. in December of last year. It is a preview of Megadeth’s next CD/DVD release, Countdown to Extinction Live, which should come out this fall.

Super Collider is just one of those albums that is so different, it has to grow on you. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen it called “Risk II”. But the truth is, there are so many different elements on SC, you can’t compare it to one single item in the Megadeth catalogue. It stands alone.

Final verdict: 7/10

Track Listing:
1. Kingmaker
2 .Super Collider
3. Burn!
4. Built For War
5. Off The Edge
6. Dance In The Rain
7. Beginning Of Sorrow
8. The Blackest Crow
9. Forget To Remember
10. Don’t Turn Your Back…
11. Cold Sweat (Thin Lizzy cover)
12. All I Want (Bonus Track)
13. A House Divided (Bonus Track)
14. Countdown To Extinction (Live In Pomona, CA) (Bonus Track)