Saturday, April 29, 2017

Freedom's Reign - Freedom's Reign

There exists an ironic undercurrent whenever a musician associated with legendary records resurfaces from beneath the water. In one hand, often times musicians that have disappeared want to modernize and reinterpret their innate style. In the other hand, fans normally want that musician to not veer far from the roots which they know and love. This gambit is at play with Freedom's Reign. Victor Arduini, of Fate's Warning fame, reemerges after more than twenty years with an eponymous album under the moniker Freedom's Reign. While it's easy to find similarities to Soundgarden or Alice In Chains strewn throughout the album, the material also exhibits ghostly wisps of the rhythmic and melodic originality that made Night on Brocken and The Spectre Within such landmark albums. The modern production could be enough to deter stubborn 'heads looking for another eight "Orphan Gypsies" or "Kiss Of Deaths" from appreciating this but I found it a rather strong album nevertheless.

Arduini, aside from an unsurprisingly stellar guitar performance, also provides the vocal performance on the album which makes use of that modulated effect which adorned Ozzy's vocals on his albums after No More Tears. I'm not a fan but I doubt that this would drive away other listeners and it doesn't impact me so much as to skewer the album. It may subconsciously dredge up emotions that some would link to modern metal. Performances across the board are commendable; Tommy Vumback occupies the second guitarist slot, Mike Jone's bass playing is solid across the album, particularly in "Brother," which happens to be my personal favorite of the release - probably because I'm a sucker for verses that are driven by a bass and drums alone combo. Chris Judge on drums does a solid job backing up the rhythm.

Into the round-about of thoughts on the tracks, "Believe" is one of the heavier tracks on the album but is endorsed with a more laid back jamming penultimate bass section. "Up From Down" crams a memorable chorus hard into your ear drums. "To Be" stands out as the worst track on the album, and is an augmented chord away from being pop-punk or Green Day or Sum 41 or something. "No Excuses" steps back towards Metal but is probably the best evidence on the album of influence from the 90's alternative rock, grunge period. "Long Way" is an expertly paced and arranged track that would easily catch the ear of a wide range of listeners. Lyrically, all the tracks are reflective, pointedly concerned with a variety of emotional topics, and well written in a way sure to make the already sombre more melancholy. In this regard, the album is decisively mature.

Returning back to that irony which I spoke about earlier, Arduini and Freedom's Reign has nothing to do with the material which brought him into the attention of most of those which would be interested in his music and probably this project. The unfortunate result of that is that there's a good chance that the listeners that would come across Freedom's Reign would not recognize the strength of the album. The tracks are mostly solid good hard rock, which is what I think Freedom's Reign were going for with the project. While it's a solid release with only some slight missteps, I can't claim that it will garner much rotation in my listening.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Monthly Blast: February / March '17

Florence Namirimu - Ziba Bbiri (Unknown)

Vocal and percussion heavy, this Ugandan singer has been circulating in the world music niche for years. Melody, other than vocals, is provided by what sounds to be a xylophone or some similar tonal instrument. Ziba Bbiri exhibits heavy dosages of call and and response vocal arrangements, as is common in folk music in this area, with Florence providing the call and a group responding. Also present is a constant flow of aboriginal drumming from what probably is a baksimba ensemble. The drum has an overall flat sound but, similar to tabla, can create a range of tonalities. The drumming can be powerful at times such as is third track, "Mwami Togayala" in which the drums thunder through nine minutes of music. The waves of percussion produces a meditative trance-like rhythm which is easy to fall deep into. This particular recording has the xylophone farthest in the mix, with Florence's vocals piercing the drumming which is most prevalent. Unfortunately, a lack of variety across extended tracks could sour the overall listening experience.

Glaukom Synod - Ogre (2007)

Ogre contains several definitive Glaukom Synod tracks. This album is one of the earliest experiments in the project's history and still shows some evidence of figuring out what exactly the Glaukom Synod sound would be. Opener "Passive Retro," an electro-noise Greaser jam, "Triangle Obscene (Obesism 23)," a miasma of scraping guitar riffs and mechanical clanking, "Sci-fix It," the most futurist track on the release hinting at the sounds on more recent releases, and "Intragenitose," a slowish electro-doom track that also exhibits a gurgling fleshiness all are easily appreciated by interested listeners. A handful of tracks don't have enough identifying markers necessary to make the thirty-four minute release totally engaging from start to finish but with a handful of excellent tracks the lackluster cuts fall to the wayside. Once again, a very strong output from this French project.

Iron Hearse - Tomb Metal (2016)

Iron Hearse has taken a more minimalist approach to doom metal since my initial confrontation with the band on their eponymous release in 2006. Tomb Metal emphasizes this push. The band further separates themselves from the clutches of modern production, overly polished ghost-heaviness, and professionalism with this collection of demo material from several years back. The initial moments of the album reveal what is best described as garage doom. What Iron Hearse has always offered, however remains; quality writing, excellent riffs, and genuinely performed material. Even though segments of the tracks here are improvised and mid-completion the overall ideas are solid. For a compilation of demos and rehearsals, the clarity is impressive on most tracks with "Sonic Nemesis" and "Reborn From Ash" being the thickest of the seven tracks. This is by no means necessary listening and, really, will only appeal to close followers of Iron Hearse, whoever that may be.

Killing Addiction - Shores of Oblivion (2016)

Killing Addiction is one of those miasmas of Death Metal which doesn't seemingly land in one specific style but instead borrows a little bit from everywhere. A mixture of the cool Floridian sounds, some of the murkiness of British goliaths, and speckles of melody point towards the Swedes. Acheron's Rites of the Black Mass is a decent comparison for a large portion of this material. The rather short songs on Shores of Oblivion contain all the usual motifs and allot time for a few slick solos. Patrick Bailey, along with supporting on bass, also provides average vocals across the four tracks. Guitarists Chris Wicklein and Patrick's brother, Chad - who I was sorry to hear passed away shortly before this EP's release - put on a commendable show of ability, at their best when working off each other during leads and harmonies. "Cult of Decay" has some moments of interest in some atypical lead harmonies but "Into Shadow" is clearly the track to investigate. As Killing Addiction maneuver through several different intensities and vibes including a clean intro, doomier early section, a slammy mid section, and tremolo and faster conclusion, the capabilities of the band are on their best display. Though Shores of Oblivion is an average output, it's a quick enough foray into a band who's been around for almost thirty years.

Metal Law - Hellrider (2016)

I was not impressed with Lawbreaker, my first run in with these German Heavy Metal warriors. Hellrider is on a similar front with me right now. I really have tried to enjoy their throwback sound and references and style but if Iron Maiden didn't use these riffs on any of their recent albums, there's no explanation that will make me agree that another band using them is 'OK.' Evidence abounds but "This Dream," an intro to "Lord of Evil," is enough evidence with it's stolen Steve Harris bass pluckage and Bruce Dickinson karaoke attempt to land it among the very best of worst musical cosplay. Much like Lawbreaker, Hellrider similarly lacks energy. Most of the album is composed of restrained and overpracticed chugging chord progressions. The sole mentionable moment of the entire album for me happens to be during "Lord of Evil" as the Metal Law boys rip Enforcer's "Diamonds." Lamentably this is uninspired geriatric heavy metal.

Mordant - Demonic Satanic (2016)

Being familiar with Mordant by way of 2011's Black Evil Master album, hearing some new material from this Swedish quintet wasn't high on my to-do list - in fact, it was probably lower than just about anything on my to-do list - but as Demonic Satanic fluttered by, I figured I'd give it a listen anyway. Much like the offering on Black Evil Master we are given a fairly polished black metal album in terms of production, but unlike the endless black metal albums which are excellently produced and empty, there's a lot of depth and originality here. Mordant lie somewhere between Mayhem and Dissection with a heavy emphasis on signature Swedish melody and gritty Norwegian foundations but there's a big Heavy Metal influence to be found as well. "Demonic Satanic," is the first excellent example of this combination of influences. Mordant show themselves to be adept songwriters and experts in album construction. "Evil Impalers" touches on speed metal motifs (obviously) but more importantly keeps the album pacing varied and energetic. "Infernal Curse of Evil" has a bizarrely upbeat verse rhythm contrasted with dark leads and harmonies. Mordant have a sturdy album here and I'll be giving it more listens.

Sepulcro - Sepulcro (1989)

Peruvian obscurity Sepulcro dumped their self-titled demo out in the late 80's as the thrash wave was peaking in the US with their own take on the genre, albeit a more Power Metal influenced rendition. Opening with an instrumental, "La Prueba De Fuego," before moving into the self titled track, Sepulcro approach this demo with a certain level of focus and confidence which is noticeable in the four well-written tracks. Sounding like a mix between Medieval and Hellhammer with Iron Maiden poking through, Sepulcro definitely prove their ability and heart. It's unfortunate that they likely were held back from greater notoriety simply due to geography. This IS a demo, truth be told, and some moments are not totally spot on or fleshed out. Miguel Huamán's vocals spit energy and aggression in the Tuetonic Thrash style but are not exploited in the mix. The guitars have more in common with the sound of peeling a potato than a heavy metal guitar, but the riffs are discernable. Not a bad listen.

Slavecrushing Tyrant - Slavecrushing Tyrant (2010)

Despite having one of the more outrageous monikers, Slavecrushing Tyrant are impressive on their self titled album. Njord, with ties to the well known entity Dark Fury, is solely responsible for the material on this release from what I can tell. The album is fairly typical Black Metal in the Eastern European sense: raw and cold atmospheres, emphasis on melodic movement, and an introverted and reflective energy. After an anthemic introduction, "Woe To The Weak" launches into the brunt of the material appropriately wandering through fast riffs before fading out on a slower melody. This mixture of tempos and speeds is further utilized throughout the album. "The Gleam of His Ever Burning Eye," aside from having my favorite song title on the release, also employs this style, and emphasizes the continued strong songwriting abilities, as Njord subtly builds songs with precise compositional concern. It would be easy to write off some moments as drab or uneventful, however to do so would ignore the sense of grandiosity which Njord has fostered in a song such as "Kshatriya," which in it's ten-minutes trounces through atypical melodic movements and a thick suffocating atmosphere. 

Witchery - Dead, Hot, and Ready (1999)

Witchery's Dead, Hot, and Ready will rip your head off. From all angles, the attack is intense, gripping, and focused on all the perfect areas for maximum impact: rhythm, melody, attitude. The combination of Heavy Metal and Black Metal here is emphasized across every track, many of them short blitzes to rattle bones and break necks. Even today bands like Midnight are trying to get this right and often times coming up just short. This album doesn't come up short. It doesn't even come up big. It's a missile of gnarly wild riffs with their foundation in the 80's heavy metal and speed metal such as Accept, and Running Wild. It takes the baton, wins the race, then kicks the losers in the teeth. Consisting of a host of veterans from bands such as Seance, Mercyful Fate, The Haunted, etc, musicianship is precise and top notch. A listen to "Resurrection" or "Full Moon" will plunge riffs deep into the metal-soul. "Call Of The Coven" is one of the slickest tunes I've ever heard, rolling in and out of riffs and memorable progressions like a vampire awakening in the night. And the fangs don't hide. This is necessary listening, as far as I'm concerned.