Tag Archives: Guitar solo

Matt Chanway: Playthrough Video 271114

Guitar virtuoso Matt Chanway has made a name for himself with well-regarded Canadian death/thrash metal band Assimilation.

Last December, Chanway unleashed his self-titled solo debut album which was described as a ‘sonic masterpiece that merges the old and new school’. Razor sharp riffs meld with soaring solos; progression with power. Inspired by the likes of George Lynch and Jeff Loomis, Chanway (who has a diploma in guitar performance from the University of West London) is a self-styled guitar hero for the 21st century.

Relentless

Describing his sound as “melodic, relentless, energetic progressive metal” and influenced by the likes of Nevermore, Circus Maximus, Tony Macalpine, Aghora and Revocation, Chanway explains that “initially this music was written for a progressive metal project called Chancellor in 2011. After leaving that band, I gradually morphed the tracks into instrumental tunes.”

Chanway states that his writing process is always honest and organic:

“I write all of the guitar parts, generally starting from one theme or motif and just continually building upon it, to create a flowing cohesive piece. Never forcing or rushing anything for the sake of releasing new music. The guitar themes are authentic; the riffs are catchy and addictive.”

Chanway also states that this is also not merely a studio project, and he is looking forward to playing his album live. He promises

“…a very authentic recreation of some very challenging music; of course instrumental music is always a different ballgame in a live context. People tend to hone in on the guitar a lot more, and the unique voice it can bring as the band leader!”

As well as his own solo album, his band Assimilation will unleash their eagerly-awaited debut album The Laws of Power on March 17th, 2017, Chanway’s new album could be the perfect presursor. Not content to rest on his laurels, Chanway is also planning a further instrumental album for 2018.

Teaming up with progresseive music ‘zine Prog-Sphere.com, Chanway demonstrates his shredding skills with his new playthrough for his track 271114:

Heart Avail – Heart Avail EP

Milagro Records

Review by Rick Ossian

Aside from what may appear an unfortunate moniker for themselves, Spokane‘s Heart Avail have a lot going for them.  Though there are only five songs here on their eponymous debut, they are all strong tunes and each one has the potential for concert appeal and/or FM Heavy Rock airplay.  Aleisha Simpson (vocalist) can be eerily reminiscent of Evanescences Amy Lee, or any one of a number of Nightwish/Within Temptation wannabes, but she has her own set of sexy, sultry pipes and proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that she can hang with the boys.  By the by, the boys are Greg Hanson (guitar), Mick Barnes (bass) and Seamus Gleason (drums).

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Broken Fairytale, the second single (Femme Metal), starts things off in fine form.  There is a creepy cool intro filled with acoustic guitar and angelic choirs that soon blossoms into a riffy, uptempo commercial heavy rock number.  The vocals are somewhat akin to what sirens must have sounded like, and though the structure is almost cliche, something keeps it lively.  A beautiful synth close signals us that it is time to move on the next number.

Up next is Vacillation, and features heavy riffing on top of a pounding, grinding AOR-esque uptempo rock number.  The vocals fit the rhythm of the music, which is always helpful.  This would be perfect pop fodder for FM radio.  I’m totally digging the main riff, which is excellent!

Always begins life with some random synth bleeps and bloops.  Good strong vocals accompany a chugging riff about a minute in to the proceedings, but shortly afterwards (1:27) a decided progginess rears its ugly head.  Again, I’m digging the main riff, even when it is interrupted by a noodly guitar solo and some violin-style FX (probably generated by the guitar or the keys).  The production is in-your-face heavy for the most part, but I couldn’t help but wonder if it would have been more effective in more practiced hands.  This is a 7-minute monster that could possibly have been pared down, but what’s the point?

No Remorse includes one of those spooky intros that you always find me yapping on and on about, but when the guitars and the drums kick in you will find yourself nodding and smiling right along with me!  Aleisha is sexy and all sorts of sultry again on this track, which is a mid-to-uptempo rocker, chock full of shifts (2:45) and riffs.  There is the obligatory guitar solo at about four minutes in, but there are lots of keys and vocals to rave about as well.  The vocal passage at five minutes in was a particular wow for me.

The last number, Pink Lace, is oddly enough the first single.  Normally I would think the first single would be the lead off track, but then, again, more practiced hands may have prevailed.  Dig that opening guitar lick – I really love the energy on this one.  Cool, chugging riffage accompanies a “prissy little princess in ribbons and bows”.  The vocals are a strong, plaintive howl, and can be, again, in your face – but this, dear reader, is a good thing. Trust me on this.  Rock blues must ask its questions, and the main one here seems to be “if you could see what you do to me/ Every time that stupid smile…” well, you get the picture!

If you like your rock along the lines of Evanescence, Within Temptation or Nightwish, and you don’t mind a bit of commercial AOR for your background, then you should do just fine with Heart Avail! Enjoy!

Verdict: 7/10

Kai Hansen announces solo album release

Gamma Ray and former Helloween guitarist, Kai Hansen has released a new single, entitled Born Free to act as a taster for his debut solo album, XXX – Three Decades In Metal

The album is due for release on 16th September through earMUSIC in a variety of formats, including single CD, Special Edition double CD, double vinyl LP and digital.

Here’s the aforementioned video:

The album and video were made at Chameleon Studios in Hamburg.  The recording line-up featured Kai Hansen on vocals and guitar, Alex Dietz (guitar player of Heaven Shall Burn) on bass, Eike Freese on guitar and Carcass‘ Daniel Wilding on the drums.

Blues Pills – Lady in Gold

Nuclear Blast

Review by Rick Ossian

amazon_badgeThough they have released a slew of EP’s and some considerable live work, this is Blues Pills’ second LP.  Their first (2014) was a stonker, a real jam, but only indicated to me there was more goodness to come.  Lady in Gold finds this mesmerizing quartet finding their own footing and really coming into their own.  They sound like they are seasoned veterans of their own scene.

Blues Pills call Planet Earth their hometown, and call Sweden Home base.  They are Elin Larsson on vocals, Dorian Sorriaux on guitar, Zack Anderson on bass and Andre Kvarnstrom on drums.  There are also some seriously heavy keys at work here, but they are credited to nobody…perhaps they are done with guitar FX pedals.  There are plenty of feedback and wah washes, speaking of FX.  There is also some really nice slide guitar work going on!

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First up is the title track, and it is a good one.  The piano and the vocals take care of the introductory salutations,  which quickly give was to the other instruments kicking in their fair share.  This is a BIG bluesy stomper, heavy on the keys as mentioned above.  There is also some psychedelic guitar at about a minute in.  Even the lyrics are psych: “She’s the lady dressed in gold/ She’s young she’s old/She’s the keeper of the soul”.  Another psych lead guitar solo (2:15) brings things quickly to a close, and the ending is much like the beginning, with a cool vocal/piano double whammy.

Little Boy Preacher graces us with its presence next, and is another rocking blues with psych and soul thrown in for good measure.  Some heavy bass contributes to the heavy blues, and the spaces of silence or almost silence become important to the dynamics of the instrumental sound and the messianic storyline.

Burned Out starts out with violins, keys and bass.  Heavy keys, most likely an electric piano and an organ, grace this number.  It features our old favorite rhythm, like horses galloping off in a heated contest!  This is a heavy rocking blues with a beauty of a slide guitar bit at 3:25.  Very nice.

I Felt a Change is a vocal and keyboard number, mainly a torch ballad of sorts.  There is also a droning of sorts going on in the background, mainly for the purpose of, apparently, atmospherics.  “I carry you still” is the overriding lyrical refrain.  DO NOT listen to this if you are in a serious depression, it is NOT pretty.  Unless, of course, you like a droning torch ballad that never really breaks out of its cage…

Gone So Long is another Bluesy stomper, with very good use of Elin‘s vocals, as we will hear throughout.  This is sort of a dirge, if yo will, and is recipient of a very emotional, passionate delivery.  At three minutes in there is a beautiful slide guitar bit, and some BIG wailing blues vocals from Ms. Elin.  It does end on a hopeful note: “See what tomorrow will bring”.

Bad Talkers has kind of a weirdo psych intro, and harkens back to the 60’s and 70’s bluesy/psych heroes of the band.  Elin‘s voice is again, clearly the driving force behind the tune.  This is another very cool Blues Rock stomp.  At about two minutes in things get a bit confusing, as drums phase into a slight instrumental breakdown, followed by handclaps and vocals.  A hell of a lot to pack into three minutes, but somehow it still works.

You Gotta Try is a very deep Blues with keyboards and guitars not too fair from the front.  There are some serious vocals in here, Elin can go from a whisper to a blues shout on the turn of a dime, and often does.  At 2:15 there is a slight building to the drums, and the tune takes off again.  At three minutes in we get a lead guitar solo and a wicked jam all around.  The vocals and the keys play heavy parts throughout.  A good, steady beat and heavy rolling drums compliment this tune as well.

Won’t Go Back charges headlong into a psych/feedback/wah intro, shortly followed by a charging urgency with a good temp and a nice funky backbeat.  Elin’s vocals allow the rest of the guys to fall in place.  There are excellent dynamics and timing involved here.  A friend of mine refers to this as ‘good writing’.  Indeed it is.  I suspect I hear a bit of clavinet in the background, à la George Duke (Zappa/Mothers/Billy Cobham).  The tune closes with a psych/wah slide bit at 2:45, then a heavy jam at the very end.

Rejection features a bass intro, and very good use of the vocal power of Ms. Elin again.  Heavy keys augment the background of this blues number.  There are some nice drum dynamics going on again, and the psych/wah lead guitar bit at 2:25 is a definite ‘wow’ moment.  Brief, but very good.  This is a BIG, tight, compact tune.  Its amazing what they can pack into a few minutes.  Big drums and keys at the closing.

The final number of the day is a doozie titled Elements and Things.  At just shy of five minutes, it is the single longest tune on this recording.  If I have any complaints, that would be the only one – not enough time spent on jamming.  You know what they say, radio format kind of loves that 3 – 4 minute song.  Much longer and you risk lack of airplay, or some such nonsense.  For our purposes longer tracks would do quite nicely, thank you very much!  An instrumental intro is followed quickly by big vocals, keys and bass.  There is a sense of a galloping rhythm again, and more wah/feedback drenching (2:15), giving way to a lead guitar solo at 2:30.  The vocals come barrelling back in at 3:30, and before we know it this whole entire beautiful bluesy mess is over.  Too bad, so sad, can’t wait for the next one!

Verdict: 8/10

Pseudo/Sentai – Enter the Sentai

Truly Tarcon Records

Review by Rick Ossian

Upon my first scoping out this recording, I was hopeful.  The album cover is really cool, and of course on reading their bio I must admit I was impressed.  Then I heard the tunes, and the old adage “never judge a book by its cover” reared its ugly head.  Of course, in this case it wasn’t a book – it was this batch of ‘tunes’, and I use the term loosely.  Unless you are a big fan, and I feel sorry for you if you are, then leave this one alone.  It is not Metal, it is barely even Rock.  More than anything, it is noise.  There are some redeeming moments throughout (the bass playing, for instance), but on the whole I’d say this is more experimental than anything else.

Pseudo/Sentai are from Brooklyn, and they are Scott Baker on vocals, guitar and firearm, and Greg Murphy on guitars, vocals and axe.  According to their bio, they are ‘here to save the world‘.  They will need better music if they are to do that.

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Intro the Sentai is, as one might expect, an intro of sorts.  As I mentioned above, it is merely noise to the uninitiated.  Enter the Sentai, the track that follows, is much the same.  It does rock out a bit at first, but shortly turns into a muddled mess afterwards.

Desert Dessert is awash with atmospherics.  There are straight vocals, but things get a bit muddled in the mix.  This is more alternative, even Noise Rock, than it is Metal.  There is a lead guitar solo (sort of) at 3:15, and a cacophony of sorts at the close.  Let’s keep ploughing along, shall we?

Code Ocean is more of the same, and although at one point I was ever-so-slightly reminded of Faith No More (vocally), I would hesitate to lump them in with such a great band.  Again, things lean much more in the Alternative/Noise Rock direction than real Heavy Metal or Hard Rock.  There are lots of stop/start dynamics here as well, but mainly PC FX at the intro (briefly) and more blips and bleeps at the end.

Adaptive Manipulator gets five cool points for the title and the creepy cool fingerpicking intro.  It is at this point when things kick in, for better or worse.  There is introspective instrumental work as well, with a bit of bashing drums and some guitar grunge, if you will.  At 3:30 they actually Rock out a bit, and then descend into another noisy cacophony at the close.

Belle of the Cabal is slightly heavier, and even noisier, if that’s even possible.  Some weird chanting going on at about 2:30, then a fadeout that begins at about 3:30.  They relight the flame shortly afterwords, and we get some weird vocal exercise at the close.  Curiouser and curiouser…

Crown of the Crow King begins life with riffing and pounding drums.  A promising start, to be sure, but soon mired in the strange vocals and the attempt at an instrumental breakdown of sorts.  The vocals return a bit later, and we are reminded what a strange little tune this one is.  The fadeout begins at about 2:25, and before we know it, it is mercifully over.

The Man-The Mill-The Machine is up next, and it starts off well enough, with one of those creepy cool intros.  There are atmospherics again, and a lead guitar solo (sort of) at 1:30.  Do they have the chops to back it up?  Not hardly.  There are a couple of shifts into heavier territory, but ultimately we return to the weirdness.  The word lackluster comes to mind.  At 3:20 there is a monologue of sorts, which had me shaking my noggin in wonder.  There were some redeeming bits of bass playing here and there, but that about sums it up.  There is a brief bit of drums and guitar kicking things up a notch at about the four-minute mark, but then more weird FX at the close.

Rome 2.0 features a strumming guitar and drum intro, ever-so-slightly reminiscent of Wishbone Ash, of all creatures.  I was also reminded a bit of my local Battle of the Bands, and NOT on a good night.  The odd introspective shift occurs at 1:50, which gives way to some slightly rockier passages at 2:20 and 3:25.  The vocal breakdown at 4:25 is weak, but the drums are a bit heavier at 4:45.  At five minutes in we get a touch more bass, but nothing too brilliant.  They almost break into a jam at 5:20, and then things draw to a close.

Baron Wasteland again features a cool title, but doesn’t really have the muscle to back things up.  The vocals are slightly reminiscent of Faith No More again, but nothing remarkable – just a faded memory at this point.  This is another weak one, unfortunately.  Too noisy, no focus.  Some vocal FX and decent drumming attempt to save this one from the mire, but it a case of too little, too late.  There is some minimal redemption going on with the bass at about five minutes in, then another FX cacophony at the close.  I’m sensing a disturbing pattern here…

Our closer for today is Werewolf Casey, which is also available as a single, I believe.  It does have a good rhythm, and IS slightly rocking, but more alt than Metal again, with more of the same lame atmospherics.  There is some decent drumming going on, and the shift at three minutes in provides them with a decent enough workout.  Hell, there is even another attempt at a guitar solo at 3:20, but it is more rhythm and riff than lead(s)…

In short, this is a collection for fans only.  If you don’t trust my judgement, and still want to hear for yourself, you can go to Bandcamp and get this for nothing!  Good call on their part, as they will undoubtedly reach more ears that way.

Verdict: 3/10

Skunk Anansie – Anarchytecture

V2

Review by Nathan Lagden

amazon_badgeSkunk Anansie have been around for over 20 years now (albeit with a fairly lengthy hiatus throughout most of the 00’s), yet nowadays it seems as though their career is somewhat on the wane, with none of the big album successes or festival headline performances which marked them out as such an important act.  Increasingly it seems as though the alternative rock quartet are confined to the 90’s in many people’s minds, but Anarchytecture, their sixth studio album (and third since their 2009 reformation), shows that they do still have plenty to offer, even if the album lacks a lot of what made Skunk Anansie such a big name.

The album opens with its leading single Love Someone Else, which is in a way quite an odd choice as its methodical nature is not really what would be expected from an opener of a band so heavily influenced by Punk and Heavy Metal.  On the other hand though, the song is to a large extent a perfect summary of an album which certainly has its merits, but just doesn’t seem to get going in the way you feel it ought to.  The opening bass-driven intro does certainly ease the listener into the record and the song progresses very nicely through many layers to a chorus where lead singer Skin gives a trademark vocal performance.  But overall, it is a bit of a surprise when the song ends just as you felt it was about to really take off.

It then moves on to Victim which is very similar in its melodic progressions, but also just doesn’t have the same energy and drive that we are so used to with Skunk Anansie.  The lyrical themes and melancholic vocals are certainly aspects of the band that we’ve seen before, but nevertheless it does seem very odd for a Skunk Anansie record to be two tracks in and not heard a song you can go completely mental to.  Victim even teases a big build before the final chorus, but falls back into the same understated pattern as the rest of the song.

Things do then pick up considerably with the next track Beauty Is Your Curse.  This is the first time you really hear guitarist Ace‘s simple yet effective riffs come to the fore and the tempo picks up to a deliver a song much more rooted in the band’s Punk inspirations than the first two songs.  It still is lacking a certain anger that fans may be used to, but the energy is definitely back for this song and not at the expense of the “quiet-loud” effect which summed up so much 90’s Alt Rock.

Death To The Lovers slows things down again, though this time with a much more emotional impact as Skin‘s vocals take centre-stage in this heartfelt personal ballad.  The other three instruments are really only there for support and the intended effect of playing to Skin‘s strengths, both in terms of vocals and lyrics, is definitely achieved.  As impactful as the song is when listening to it however, it just doesn’t seem to quite have enough depth to be as memorable as it should be.

The carefully constructed build of In The Back Room then follows again with a similar theme of providing all the hallmarks of a song working its way to a big in your face crescendo without actually getting there.  Again, there are merits to this song in the form of a catchy drum beat and interesting bass line culminating in a much more pop-based chorus than anything we’ve heard thus far. It’s no bad thing per se, but certainly the impression I had by this almost half-way point on my first listen was that I’d yet to hear a song that would really stick with me.

This does change slightly with Bullets however.  Its distorted bass introduction builds to an excellent guitar-driven chorus and a fantastic vocal melody which definitely does stick with you.  This is Skunk Anansie‘s writing at its best – something which which does not overcomplicate anything, but keeps it simple for maximum effect.  Again, nothing of their former angrier selves here, but that certainly doesn’t mean that it isn’t a good song.

The next song That Sinking Feeling is another terrific example of what this band is also about.  Catchy drum-beats, Punky guitar riffs and distinctive vocals building through a great tempo to a chorus that is great for jumping around to.  Now that we’re at this stage of the album it does make you realise that Skunk Anansie do still have a lot to offer and can still kick up an upbeat guitar-based rocking tracks when the mood strikes them.

It is all over too soon however as we slow right back down again for Without You.  This is another song however, where the raw emotion of Skin‘s performance is used to great effect.  You always get the feeling that she deeply means what she sings, and this is especially true when her vocals become the focal-point of any song, such as with this one.  So even though it does mean the album reverts to again another safer and more melodic track, this time it is not to its detriment.

Suckers! is up next. A 1:22 instrumental track which ironically has the best riff on the album and so, as good a listen as it is, it really is actually quite disappointing that they didn’t decide to make a proper song out of it.

You could almost be forgiven though, for thinking that it’s just the intro to We Are The Flames, as it starts in a very similar fashion before Skin‘s distinctive vocals kick back in for a toned-down verse.  This is yet another song which teases an epic build but instead drops off as it reaches the chorus.  It’s not as if it’s a bad chorus, or even a bad song.  It’s just that once again we’re left with the feeling that it there could have been a lot more to it and that would have made it just that little bit better.

They did save the best for last however. I’ll Let You Down very much hits home with very personal lyrics and an incredible performance from Skin. In fact, the song actually feels a lot closer to her solo work than Skunk Anansie, but you won’t hear any complaints from me on that front.  The song is a beautifully haunting melody which send shivers up the spine.  Despite the title of the closing track and despite my criticisms, I do not feel let down by this album.  It very much follows along the same lines as Black Traffic and the rest of Skunk Anansie‘s post-reunion work.

I suppose one cannot expect a band who did have quite a lot of success for being angry and angsty to remain angry and angsty without it sounding forced.  And it really isn’t even as if there is a bad song on Anarchytecture, it’s just that it doesn’t live up to what you would expect from the name and provide the energy that you would want from a band who made a name for themselves as a “clit-rock” act.  Nor have they replaced this old dynamism with anything else particularly, which for me is the greatest disappointment.  The whole album just feels a little bit like they’re playing it safe, with the melodic tracks which used to be a pause for breath between an album of fast-paced kilers now being the norm.  Ultimately, there is nothing majorly wrong with Anarchytecture, but it will not be remembered as a classic either.

Verdict 6/10

Bloodthirst – Glorious Sinners

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Pagan Records

Review by Rick Ossian

This is Bloodthirst’s 4th LP for the folks at Pagan Records, and  it is a mini-album of 5 brand new tracks. They are proudly self-pigeonholed as “Hateful Antichristian Thrash”, which should really please all the parental units out there!  Their recording/touring personnel are Rambo on guitars and vocals, Gregor on guitar and vocals, Rybosh on bass and Mnt on drums.  They hail from The Goat City of Poznan in Poland.  They got rolling about 1999 or so, and have been recording and touring ever since.  Normally I don’t go in for this sort of thing, but I made an exception here because I liked what I heard.  True, there are some problems with the vocals; I prefer mainly clean vocals, and can endure some screaming and shouting, but I tend to shy away from the vocals of the ‘Cookie Monster‘ variety.  Most of you regular readers will no doubt know this by now.  I do not apologize for this.  Normally, I embrace change.  That’s what I am doing today.  These guys are actually pretty good.  I am glad that I gave them a listen.

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First up is The Viper’s Nest.  This is a riff-fest, for the most part.  There is some really nice pounding at the beginning, then SLAM!  The next thing you know, speed metal is kicking your arse.  Just before the one-minute mark, the vocals come in, and the boys switch riffs in mid-slam.  The vocals may be partially indiscernible, but they are powerful.  Just tough as nails.  At the two-minute mark, there is another shift.  Sort of a guitar-slam, breakdown, if you will.  Then they go back to the main riff.  This is guttural at best, but it still commands a bit of respect.

The Reign of the Antichrist is more speedy, in-your-face instrumentation, plenty of wicked riffs, and the mix is much better than you might expect.  At 1:25, there is a full stop, then a shift to evil, big fat chords.  At 1:55 there is a neat lead guitar solo, plenty of speedy shred.  I’m wondering if maybe they just slowed down a bit…nah!  These boys are hell-bent on the finish line, and they can rest when they get there!

The Masterpiece of Lie is a six-minute monster.  There are some excellent opening riffs, and the main riff is a sweet one.  This is bluesy black metal, if you will.  The production values are good enough to where you can hear everything, which is refreshing because usually thrashy stuff doesn’t really do that.  There are lots of slamming guitars here, and you may as well throw your speedometer in the thrash – this one is about triple-time at its SLOWEST.  This is heavy fucking duty stuff, forceful and powerful, especially at the close.  The shift at four minutes in is noteworthy as well.

No God Shall Stand Before Pope is another riff-fest.  The guitar solo at 1:45 is super speedy shred.  Good stuff.

Sacco di Roma (Sacking of Rome) is another track that features more heavy slamming.  This is a no-holds-barred tune, with plenty of riffing, shifting, slamming, playing, and the vocals may be guttural but at least they are partially discernible.  The boys are, again, hell-bent on finishing, it seems.  But no matter.  There is a nice fadeout loaded with feedback at the end, too!

Verdict: 7/10

Circus Maximus – Havoc

 

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Frontiers Records

Review by Rick Ossian

amazon_badgeHavoc is Number 4 for this outfit from Oslo, Norway.  They have been recording since around 2005, and they list their personnel as Michael Eriksen (vocals), Mats Haugen (guitar), Glen Mollen (bass), Truls Haugen (drums) and Laase Finbraten (keys).  These guys have developed a clear, strong progressive rock sound.  Their sound may not be the most unique nowadays, but they are clearly very good at what they are doing.  There are times when the overall presentation veers more towards sentimental than metal, but there is nothing wrong with being a bit eclectic.  It makes you more marketable, after all!

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The Weight is the opener for Havoc, and it struts straight into some heavy riffing with some cool, majestic keys.  The vocals are nice, clear and ringing, a very strong presentation.  There is a good steady drum beat going, and we get a couple of nice guitar parts that probably should have just been combined.  They all but are, when you listen you begin to understand.  They are at 3:05 and 3:45, respectively.  The first is what I would call a stately shred, and the second is followed by a shift with a vocal breakdown of sorts.  The 5:30 jam in the midsection is well executed.  There is a good riff and a Zakk Wylde squeal thrown in for good measure at the close.

The first note I noticed in my notes (see what I did there?) is that Track Number 2, Highest Bitters, is totally driven by the bass.  There is an interesting beginning as well, with some nice riffage going on, and some atmospheric keys (1:10) follow up.  There is a slight shift at the 2:330 mark, and the atmospherics return at the three-minute mark.  There are a couple of nice guitar bits at 3:10 and 3:30.  The chorus shift comes in again at 4:20, and it a clear, powerful melodic symphony of a close.

The title track is up next, and it is a hard-charging track, especially when you consider that it’s only half of the length of their normal tracks.  They really know how to pack a lot into a few minutes, if you catch my meaning.  There is some serious shredding going on at about two minutes in, and the riffing at three minutes in is worth noting as well.  Good scream at the end, too!

Pages features a sweet intro on the guitar, and then riffing.  The vocal is driving this time out, and it is clear and strong.  The mid-section is also really good, and the jam at three minutes in includes keys, vocals and guitars.  The lead guitar solo at 3:30 is a super sweet shred as well.

Flames includes a creepy keyboard intro, with a sexy, sneaky vocal.  The drums and bass really come to the fore on this one, and the bass in particular is driving this tune.  The vocal harmonies are very pretty also.  At 2:40 there is a shift involving the drums and vocals.  At one point Mssr. Eriksen really lets rip with a “LET ME GO“, and before we know what has pounded us into submission, this track is over!

Loved Ones is a lovely, beautiful leviathan of a tune , coming in at just over eight minutes.  There are two others that are as epic or more hot on its heels, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves!  Some gorgeous floating keyboards get us started, and they turn almost inspirational later on.  This track is a bit too tender in spots for my taste, but still very well executed.  The vocals come in at 1:25, and by 2:10 the shift indicates that the chorus is driving this time, hence the lyrics/vocals.  They are powerful, majestic, even grandiose, dear reader.  Some folks would say they’re putting on airs.  Let em put, I say!  The guitar solo at 4:15 is low and grumbly, the down-in-the-gutter rock.  Then at 4:30, we get more.  There is a singular good jam here, and at 5:20 they shift keys and some considerably mellower fare.  There is some good punchy keyboard and guitar work going on here also, and at 6:40 we get slammed again with another wall of guitars.  At seven minutes in there is some lovely picking.  One whale of a track, and one could even say its EPIC!

After the Fire is even longer, weighing in at exactly eight-and-a-half minutes.  Bass and keys take us on our journey with the intro, and there is some pumping and building going on here at the outset of this tune.  Some solid vocals, and some BIG drums.  Lots of riffing going on here, too.  The shift and vocal breakdown at 3:20, giving way to some very stately jamming, and a nice guitar bit at 3:50.  There are more big riffs to come at 4:50, and there is an excellent jam in the five -to-five-and-a-half region.  The guitar part that follows is some jazzier shredding.  The jam at six minutes in mainly riffs and keys.  The close is a powerful one.

Remember is slightly smaller.  This one is only five-and-a-half minutes.  Prog joke, get it?  The keys and the bass are driving this particular number.  It is mellower, almost a prog metal lite, if you will.  There is a shift to a slightly heavier brew at the 1:20 mark, then a powerful chorus at 2:10.  The jam at 2:40 and the solo at 2:50 are both outstanding.  We get a shift back to some mellow fingerpicking at 4 minutes in, then the powerful close from about 4:40, when it kicks in, straight on through till the end!

The closing number, Chivalry, is another behemoth, almost 8 minutes again.  There is a spooky, haunting intro.  The keyboards and the guitars are minimal but effective.  At about one minute in, the vocals make their entry, and they are super mellow.  This is followed by some beautiful piano playing and vocal FX.  At 2:25, the rest of the band kicks in, and there is a shift to a fairly jamming midsection at about three minutes in.  The drum slam at 3:30 will wake you if you are snoozing, and the jam around 4-5 minutes is positively powerful.  There are a couple of nice guitar bits here, and some seriously driving bass to boot!  If you are a prog metal fan, with your tastes leaning slightly towards the grandiose, then THIS is for you!

Verdict: 8/10

Metal Church – XI

metalchurchcoverxi

Nuclear Blast

Review by Rick Ossian

amazon_badgeMetal Church of Aberdeen, Washington (circa 1980) are back with a vengeance with their first recording in three years.  XI features the return of vocalist Mike Howe, taking over from Ronny Munroe, who has formed his own band, Munroe’s Thunder.  He is accompanied by Kurdt Vanderhoof (Presto Ballet) on guitar, Rick van Zandt on guitar, Jeff Plate on drums and Steve Unger on bass.  Fret not, gentle reader, they are still just as heavy as they were during the days of Blessing in Disguise.

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The opening track, Reset, is an excellent heavy number with some considerable guitar work.  The lyrics seem a bit morbid at times; “Turn the page/In my old age/Now I’m at the final stage“, but overall it’s a pretty upbeat number.  Some heavy shifting going on (2:20) and a nice little lead at 2:35.

Killing Your Time features a nice build-up at the outset, and is a heavy-duty Thrash with simple heavy-as-hell riffs.  Some seriously chugging uptempo stuff here, and some prophetic lyrics; “And when it’s time for you to pay/For all your evil ways/Your story no one will believe”.  There are two guitar solos, and the second one almost sounds as if both axemen are at it simultaneously… did somebody say twin leads?  I dared!

No Tomorrow has one of those weird strumming intros, then the slamming main riff.  Marching Metal drums come to the fore next, and again I am struck by the lyrics; “Losing your mind is like losing your soul/Life your life and there will be no tomorrow“.  The strumming comes into play again (3:10) later in the tune, and of course there is a lead guitar solo (3:30), and the riffing at the close is pretty cool.

Signal Path is a complete monster, squealing to a close at just past the seven-minute mark, and has one of those stony cool fingerpicking bits at the intro.  This is almost arena-rock thrashy, if you will, à la Metallica or Megadeth even.  Very cool stuff.  The lyrics kicked me in the head again, incidentally; “Paying the price for what you do/ The signal is never getting through“.  At three minutes in the tempo shifts to the mellow introspection of the intro.  At 4:15 there is the obligatory guitar solo, followed by a shift at the five-minute mark for more eerie introspection.  I don’t mind the mellow bits, but I really enjoy it when they all get together for the occasional banging of heads!

Sky Falls In is another seven-minute magnificent bastard of a tune.  It features another of those eerie strumming/picking intros – though this one is pretty fucking cool, I have to say.  The main riff kicks in about half a minute in, and we’re off again.  Guess what struck me?  A prize for you of five cool points if you guessed the lyrics; “With the devil on my back/ My angels planning my attack”.  At the three-and-a-half minute point you get the first part of a solo, but it’s just a false start.  The real goods kick in at 4:00 (a sweet descending-style solo) and the return of the eerie strum (5:30).  At six minutes in, the proceedings turn almost transcendent, and the ‘along the way‘ lyrical refrain takes us to the close.

Needle and Suture, by contrast to its predecessors, is much shorter (4:38), but it is tighter, sharper, and more slamming than ever!  The tempo is a heavy, charging, chugging, pumping version of modern-day thrash, and there is some serious riffing/shredding and headbanging going on here.  Though the title may suggest a bit of a junkie’s lament, as it were, it’s still a very uptempo number, and the vocals are wickedly good throughout!  A nice fadeout closes this one, as well as a lyrical refrain of sorts, “I feel the future close”.

Shadow is another short-but-sweet number, and the bright riffing and wicked bassline featured in the intro carries through the rest of the tune.  At about 40 seconds in, Mike lures us in with sneaky, snaky vocal.  Just close your eyes and enjoy on this one – it is a bit more power metal than thrash, and of course there are a couple of sweet solos (1:30 and 2:45).

Blow Your Mind is another big one, at just shy of six-and-a-half minutes, and this one I would call more of a heavy Metal/Psych mix, with the requisite creepy-cool guitar intro.  The guitar tone alone is eerie and menacing, with some really cool bass licks thrown in for good measure.  There is a nice guitar bit at 3:20, and a shift (4:50) back to the eerie-ness of the intro.  Some excellent riffing at the close of the tune as well.

Soul Eating Machine is just as good as its title would have you imagine.  It has another of those cool fingerpicking intros, and when the main riff kicks in, it IS a sweet one.  Lyrically, we have the lovely couplet: “There’s just one place for you and it’s your own abyss/Now there’s nothing left inside“.  There is an excellent guitar solo at the three-minute mark, again using the false start/second lead method like before.  There is another cool fadeout here.  Starting to think Metal Church are the new masters of doing a Metal fadeout at the end of their tunes…

It Waits features some serious bass playing, and a vocal FX (like a whisper/muffled).  It is a psych-style intro, with the sneaky/snaky vocal delivery again.  At 2:50 we get a shift into some heavy-as-fuck riffing, and of course we have to have a guitar solo (4:05), only this one morphs into a twin, which I think is pretty fucking cool.  Another masterful fadeout only reinforces my idea from Soul Eating Machine.

Suffer Fools, the closer for the day, is more of the same – heavy riffing at the outset, plus some serious bass and drums to boot.  There is another of the false-start lead movements here again, starting at two minutes in, then again at 2:25.  This is another of the twin leads, with his brother kicking in shortly after Round Two.  There is some serious shredding involved here as well, with the bass and drums kicking in on top shortly afterwards.  Another cool fadeout brings this set to a close.  VERY well done!

Verdict: 8/10

 

Chaos Frame – Paths to Exile

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Nightmare Records

Review by Rick Ossian

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Chaos Frame comes to us via the windswept prairie of the midwestern United States; St. Paul, Minnesota, to be more precise.  They have dubbed themselves ‘regressive‘ metal, which may seem contradictory to most, but to me it makes perfect sense.  After all, everyone else in their ‘genre’ seems to be satisfied with being referred to as ‘progressive‘ metal.  Well, either would seem appropriate in today’s genre-happy mixed up musical world.  Perhaps by being regressive CF are just making light of the whole situation. Who’s to say?  Let us move on to the important stuff, shall we?

Chaos Frame are about as regressive as it gets, and they have one powerful message to give to us.  Vocally, they have a sonic powerhouse in the shape of one Dave Brown.  Dave not only lets rip vocally somewhere in the sky next to the kings of the falsetto – he also brings it home and back down to the ground when the music calls for it.  Most of the time he is in the stratosphere, but then isn’t where a regressive metal vocalist should be?

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Instrumentally, we have two duelling guitars that scream and wail, oftentimes in unison, though perhaps slightly disjointed.  Many times they both go off in search of the ultimate shred together, one taking a lead while the other rests/riffs, then swapping spots at the drop of a hat.  The guitarists in question are Matt Hodson and Andy Xiong.  Ably backing this dynamic duo are Aaron Lott on the bass guitar and Steve Bergquist on the drums.

Our first track up is Painful Lessons.  It opens with a lead jam, then some vocal effects.  This is very proggy, but let’s not forget that we’re trying to be regressive.  Just whose leg do these chaps think they’re pulling, anyway?  I smell PROG.  Energy – check.  Urgency – check.  Wicked vocal hooks – check.  Then, at about a minute in, the main riff/jam kicks in.  When the vocals return, Dave exhibits his range in the way that only he can – sky one moment, then grounded the next.  The lead guitar work seems to be part of the ultimate refrain, which is refreshing.  We do get brief bursts here and there, but nobody seems to be leaning on the shredding – also refreshing!  This is a powerful tune, and a good choice for an opener.  There is even a little lead at the end!

The title track, Paths to Exile, is up next.  This one is a real barn-burner, but a long epic to boot.  The intro is a thrashy double-thumping slam to your senses, and I’m digging the main riff with the sky vocals mixed in.  This is great stuff, with the energy just barely in check again.  I think one of the reasons I’m liking these guys so much is that, at the risk of sounding like so many others, they pour some extra passion into the mix and come up roses!  They could be Dream Theater, they could be Pagan’s Mind – they could even pose as my beloved Symphony X – but they are, instead, a big pile of heaping Chaos Frame – and that should be enough for all of us.  Vocally, Dave exhibits controlled righteous anger – but only just – he sounds like he could be threatening to let rip (literally) at any moment!  There are several guitar solos here, but as before they can be brutally brief.  Short but sweet, as we Americans are so fond of uttering.  The first is mixed with a sort of instrumental breakdown with HEAVY double-bass drum usage (4:15).  Then their is another (4:53).  Then, at about 5:50, there is a longer, shreddier, if you will, one that’s laid down very nicely.  At six-and-a-half minutes in we get an all-out jam, then another solo at 6:50.  The shift to the refrain at the close seems a bit disconnected, as the lyrics let on.  This track is nothing short of brilliant.  Small wonder it is the title tune!

Derceto must be some sort of prog-monster/demon, or something, as is evidenced by the mix of Cookie Monster vocal FX with the straight vocals – something, by the way, that I would NOT recommend.  Perhaps it is just me, but as I’ve mentioned before, I like to hear my vocalists actually SING, thank you very much.  I realize that I waffle considerably on this particular issue, and today I happen to be on the side of the fence wherein the straight singers reside…no offense to the growlies, of course!  The triumphant keys on here make me wonder if there is, indeed, a keyboard player – after all, there are only guitars, bass and drums listed as the main source of instrumentation.  Perhaps there is a bit of keyboard thrown in here and there…only the CF blokes know for sure!  This is thrashy prog, and the above-mentioned growls are indeed well done, but the straight vocals are better, in my opinion.   There is also the obligatory guitar solo at about three-and-a-half minutes in, but instead of remaining a mere shredding exercise it goes into vista-sky style (sorta bluesy).  The vocals at four minutes in remind us of Dave’s inimitable powers, and he throws in a scream at the outro, to remind us – as if we needed it!

Terra Firma also features a thrashy/proggy intro with heavy riffing and busy double-bass drumming.  Then things are airy, then power riffing with vocals.  There are several shifts here, and that is just within the first minute or so.  There is a shreddy lead solo at 3:40, and an instrumental breakdown of sorts at four-and-a-half minutes in.  Vocally, World Trade and TNT came to mind whilst I was listening.

Paper Sun features yet another heavy-as-fuck opener riff, with the killer vocal imprint all over the proceedings AGAIN – doesn’t Dave get tired of kicking ass?  It also includes a sort of keys solo at 4:20 that morphs into a saxophone, somehow – either that or these old ears are playing tricks on me.  There is a nice little shredding also at 4:40.  Lyrically, I was briefly captured aurally by this couplet: “Since you’ve been gone/ I wander the roads where you left me“.  Profound, right?  Romantic, no?  Perhaps.

Giantkiller is another lengthy, epic-y production with a classic prog-rock opening.  Everything is here again, by the way – the urgency, the energy, the brilliant, powerfully sky-rocketing vocals.  This bloke is obviously of hero status, as well.  Just check the lyrics if you don’t believe me: “For justice and the helpless/He’s the man who walks among the giants“.  At the 3:45 mark there is an instrumental breakdown that shifts slightly into a brief lead guitar bit, then there are more prophetic lyrics: “The only way to win the war/Straight down into the planet’s core“.  By the way, the drums are again very busy on this particular tune, and we get another couple of lead pieces as well.  Some shredding (4:15), plus riffage, and at 5 minutes in, more shredding that leads to traveling bluesy/rocky leads and riffs, then a lovely instrumental breakdown from around 6:45 to the close.  Absolutely brilliant.

Doomed starts out a bit doom and gloom (hence the name, right?), almost reminding one of Sabbath-esque riffing.  There is some seriously shredding riffage here again, and some wicked cool powerful vocals as well.  At 2:40 we hear yet another breakdown/shift of sorts (with vocals), an instrumental version at three-and-a-half minutes in, then a shred-fest with both guitars at the 4:20 mark.  How appropo!

At long last we arrive at the closer.  It has been a considerably long journey.  I would not deem our proceedings arduous, however.  I have thoroughly enjoyed this ride.  It seems only fitting that this, our last number, is the longest of the batch.  At almost 8 minutes, in length, one would be tempted to dub The World Has Two Faces as an epic.  It IS very tempting, because it is nothing if not an epic, musical journey.  We start out with keys/guitars PLUS drums and bass doing the heaviness-and-airiness at the same time thing…not sure how on earth they do that, but CF do it WELL!  The main riffing that comes in about 1:45-2:00 is heavy as fuck (again), and the doom factor creeps back in at about 3:20.  Busy drums – did I mention that?  At three-and-a-half minutes in there is a nice lead guitar bit.  At 3:50 they falter only slightly with some chanting/whoa oh oh’s (I like the 60’s/70’s as much as anyone, but I’m not sure this is the place for that).  It is repeated again at the 7-minute mark, oddly enough,.  At 4:20 there is something you don’t get to hear often in prog metal – we get spatial FX – guitar riffs moving from speaker to speaker – and if I can detect it on a little ol’ PC, just imagine how groovy it will sound on your stereos!  Both guitars positively shred at the 5 minute mark. Some proggy keys are happening at 5:20, and some nice vocals plus riffs at the 6-minute mark. There is an instrumental breakdown (broken record, Rick!) at 6:45.  Let’s see, does that about wrap it up?  Indeed it does!

Upon consideration of adding this piece to your listening library, do not focus strictly on what I have written.  It may indeed influence you to go out and purchase it instantly!  I have already decided to purchase my own copy to support these deserving blokes.  However, I think you should hear some first!  So, go to YouTube, punters!  Go to Facebook!  Go to your record store!  Just go, I tell you! Hear Chaos Frame, they will make you want to stand up and rock!

*****/5