Monday, December 29, 2008

Aeternus - Hexaeon

(An old review)

Ever since Beyond The Wandering Moon, Aeternus has been a band that I have enjoyed a lot. Both their earlier black metal material and more recent blackened death metal fare. Although I will admit that Ascension of Terror was not a complete let down, I felt that Aeternus could do much better. The two tracks that I heard off A Darker Monument were, to say the least, not really my thing. I thought that it was possible that once again a band I enjoyed was going the route of a sneezing Houdini in one of his submersion tricks.
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And then, Hexaeon:

Ares has unleashed upon us nine tracks of dark, metallic, fury. The production is excellent. Every instrument screams with a need of acknowledgment. I want to mention the Vocals first because they are, in my opinion, the weakest aspect to this album. Its not that they aren't good. Certain times they just sound like Steven Hawking singing through the blades of a bedroom oscillating fan. But its not really as awful as it sounds. Anyway...Guitars, provided by Ares, cut shrill paths throughout the albums depthless flesh and gut and whatever is left over. Not technical, but pounding in every way. V'gander's bass is fantastic. No, hes not gonna be given any awards by the progressive rock fans but to these ears, he provides a lot of the awesomeness of the album with a fantastic tone and low end. Erik's drumming is also of mention, of course. A lot of cool fills and great groove complete the music of this album. If Ares is the blasphemous knight, V'gander is his steed, trampling the allies of their enemies beneath his blood-soaked hooves.

To the songs: This is a brilliant collection of music. It might be the song's arrangement... but awesome. Opening tracks "The Darkest Of Minds" and "Godhead Charlatan" are crushing mid tempo songs. Third track "The 9th Revolution" is the weakest track in my opinion. From the 4th track onward though is gold - possibly gold removed the walls of the Vatican by demons. "In The 3rd Dwells Oblivion" is a much faster track. The HUGE breakdown entering the final 40 seconds or so of the song is so utterly destructive in nature. Title track "Hexaeon" breaks the pace slightly with a clean guitar intro. The first usage of clean guitars until "Christbait." Track Six, "Punished" includes a bridge that erupts with innate violence. "Ageless Void", and "Christbait" are both solid songs but closer "What I Crave" hearkens back to the more black metal days of Aeternus with some enchanting clean vocals, grim melodies, and the albums finest, and most ironic, moment... a emotion tinged solo pulling together the album.

I think that this album is nothing but a precursor of things (great things) to come. The black metal days of Aeternus, as glorious as they were are well in the past. This new Aeternus is not better or worse than the elder/younger vision of Aeternus. It is simply a different method of showing that vision.

1349 - Hellfire

(An older review)

1349 are one of the few of the black metal bands of their kind that I can really get into. Hellfire, their newest album is a shining example of what black metal such as theirs should sound like. Relentless constant and never letting up without resorting to being redundant blasting on the drums and horribly produced monotonous guitar work.

Musicianship is of the highest order. Frost's drumming is impeccable. complimenting the music's aggressive attitude yet at times pushing it to a new level which few bands can venture. his stick work is a flurry of abysmal fury rarely seen across any of metal's genres. Archaon and Tjalve's guitar work is clear, crisp, and horrifically genius. Though Seidermann's bass playing is not at the front of the recording it does add some grit and dirty bottom end throughout the album. Ravn's vocals are a fitting end to the talented mix. This is an album which can boast some truly excellent production aside from the lowness of the bass in the mix.

The songwriting on this album is very good. Songs stick out, each holding their own against and not getting lost in the whole. The album employs a wide variety techniques at times including tremolo guitar work, more basic guitar powerchords and rhythms, some death metal influences areas, some thrashy parts, and some atmospheric sections also; its all here and then some. This is an album of songs. Nathicana is a personal favorite however Celestial Deconstruction and From The Deeps also are album highlights for me. To Rottendom is my least favorite song for some reason however that is not saying its not a good song.

The one thing that this album could have used was a little more variety tempo-wise. Its all extremely fast for the entire album with From The Deeps being the one exception and a well placed one on the album due to the fact it breaks up the speed. Perhaps not surprisingly this song also finds its way into the territory of 260+ bpm. Though there is a short clean break that works well aside from it existing for less than three seconds. A longer one may have been better placed but who am I to judge.

Slaves To Slaughter has an interesting musical break about a third of the way in that reeks of decomposed corpses and evil emanating from the very core of the human soul. Then goes off on a black metal journey to hell climaxing in a burzum-esque finale. Also a standout track.

Hellfire is the album's fourteen minute "epic." Though the first three minutes are pretty much buildup with little music except for some funeral-like organ melody. This however transforms - somewhat clumsily in my opinion - into the actual song. Hellfire is pretty much similar to everything else on the album and, for an epic track doesn't quite stand up to what the rest of the album offers before hand. By this time into the album it would have been more rewarding to encounter more doomy tempos and variation. Nine minutes in there is a more Deathspell Omega induced riff that, for me, gives this song some individuality. Thats not to say this isn't a killer ending track which it is. Some fantastic riffs, and brilliant-in-an-Einstein-kind-of-way drumming is, like elsewhere on this album the deciding factor and makes this another great song much like it makes the rest of the songs on the album great songs.

Overall, this is an excellent example of the possibilities that a talented, musicianship-oriented, black metal band can create when done right and done thoughtfully. I would personally consider this their best effort, more natural and flowing than Beyond The Apocalypse and more musical and professional sounding than Liberation. I await great things from 1349's next effort if this is any show of their progression as a black metal band.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Hear N Aid - Stars

The concept behind this whole project is, in my eyes, a massive hypocrisy. To gather huge names like Dokken, Dio and Judas Priest together and do an album to raise one million dollars is folly and a clear attempt at "softening" the image of heavy metal. If these musicians wanted to help famine in Africa, they could have each reached into their deep pockets and simply written a check instead of dropping the load of dung that "Stars" is upon us. The release of this album is none other than a combination of covering up personal selfishness and reaping the rewards of an easily digested commodity / format. "Rewards? All the profit goes to charity!" you say? After you take off your blindfolds and eye patches, read the news; money isn't the only prize to gain from participating in an incredibly successful collaboration. Every single person participating in Hear N Aid knew that the single would sell like vanilla umbrellas during a chocolate syrup hurricane. Every single person involved knew that this would attract attention to their own projects, make parents slightly less likely to throw out their son's albums, and buy them a ticket to the promised land - and in the name of Heavy Metal they did this shit anyway. Blasphemy...

Now, I can't knock the music too much. It sounds like Dio except for the first solo which sounds like an alien spaceship recorded using a microphone and a rainbow scented distortion pedal (no pun intended). The solo actually makes me laugh if I listen to it several times in succession. The solo afterward is much more metal than the Martian tomfoolery of the first solo. Considering that the song was written almost entirely by the Dio gang, the traditional style of the tune is no surprise. While I can't complain that the song sounds like Dio, I can wholeheartedly wish that there were other people involved in writing the actual music for the song. There are a ton of awesome song writers on the album that could have contributed ideas and excellent riffs: Dave Murray and Adrian Smith (who only get a chance to contribute a barely audible melody line to the chorus), Ted Nugent, and George Lynch. I'm kind of surprised that Ted Nugent would ever agree to do a song like this or even take part in such a project. He seems like the "let them fend for themselves, and let me kill the boar on my acres of farmland" kind of character. Ultimately, the song is a generic 80's metal anthem-styled song with a raging hard-on for itself, "shredding" solos (notably in the extended version where the solo section is bearable (why did they chose the two worst solos to put in the single track?) and contains some actual interesting guitar work from egoist overlord Yngwie) and a catchy general melody that flows along like a nice little river from which deer drink happily and bunny rabbits fornicate besides.

I do really love the guitar tone on the single and the whole sound of the song. It is crisp, and has that vintage lots of mids and treble tone. It is clear throughout the whole track. The song would be laughable without the classic tone which is almost the only thing that allows this atrocity of metal history to survive without sounding like a joke. The cheese of the song is supported by the cheese we associate with the guitar tone. The keyboards are buried though you can hear them at points. The drums are clear too though I wish the snare was louder in the mix. The kick drum tone is beautiful though and sounds like a kick drum and not the marching band kid in math class tapping on his desk with his untrimmed fingernails. I also appreciate the clean, booming bass that cuts through the the rest of the instruments. Sadly, Jimmy Bain is not doing anything at all interesting. His plodding makes me wonder if he originally brought the idea to Ronnie as a joke. Like telling your friend "Hey lets go eat those ants that are always crawling near your front door" and then he says "Sure!" and you are pulled into eating insects off his stoop.

The huge chorus would be awesome if they were not shouting "We're Stars." No shit you're stars assholes - your all singing on a heavy metal fund raiser album with the Dio. Is it possible that this song is a hidden attempt at making fun of the mentally handicapped? "Hey guyz! I'm da Staaauurrr!" If they were shouting something like, "We're Napalm Warriors!" it would be total kick assery though not at all appropriate for a famine relief fund raiser album. I get the same basic feeling from the chorus that I get from Dream Evil's (Hah, Its like everything is a Dio reference) Made Of Metal - big balls to the wall chorus with lame lyrics. If there is one thing I always prided Dio for, it was his lyrics. He has written some of the best lyrics in metal in his time with Sabbath and with Dio but the lyrics here are trite and meaningless. Does Ronnie James Dio really "cry for the children?" Or how about Chris Holmes? Maybe when he was floating his Vodka filled pool in the blue raft he looked to the 'stars' and wondered if the hungry African children were looking at the same night sky. Holmes wondering if famished African children have anything to eat while downing bottles of vodka in a pool is an image I would love to see a renaissance painting depiction of. Maybe David Alford really cares for "the shrunk up kids" as he gives his best Tom Hanks in Forest Gump impression. The attitude towards the starving children is less than concerned by almost all those involved. I think Rob Halford is the only one who actually says anything meaningful in the interview.

Don't get me started on Gale Murphy from Rock Network Affiliate KLOS in Los Angeles. The title for the interview is misleading. It's not four and a half minutes long. It's five grueling minutes of strung out rock stars trying to sound intelligent. But then, so is the single track itself.