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Metal Monday: The Best And Worst Of 2011-So Far

Four months into the year 2011, and there have almost been enough great metal albums this year to build a very respectable “Best of the Year” list from. It’s been an uncharacteristically great year thus far, but hasn’t been without stinkers (is there ever a time without at least a couple?). For those not intently following every single metal release in 2011, here’s the best and the worst of the year…so far.

Starting off on a good foot, one of the best releases this year has received surprisingly little buzz, even though I reviewed it about a month ago in the Metal Monday column. American Heritage‘s Sedentary is a very solid and unrelenting jaunt through a hardcore-tinged, good ol’ heavy metal metal record. Featuring an all-star cast of bassists on the record and eleven songs sure to compel you to bang your head, you would be remiss to not give Sedentary a listen.

Newcomers to the metal world, TesseracT put out their first full-length via Century Media this year. On One, the guys in Tesseract take a 55 minute progressive metal romp featuring erratic polyrhythms, complex time signatures, djent guitars, and a six-part epic in the middle of the album. Even given all of the technicality of the album, it still comes across as quite an easy listen due to the catchy lyrics and atmospheric transitions between many of the heavier and more obviously complex sections on the album. One also features some of the best production work in metal today with a very organic sound with loads of natural dynamic and little compression (most obvious when you listen to the cymbals). Right now, it appears that TesseracT are sitting pretty atop the progressive metal throne.

Receiving a significant amount more attention than the previous two albums on the list was  Protest the Hero with the album Scurrilous (also reviewed for a Metal Monday). A slight deviation from their prior releases, Protest The Hero have kept up with their virtuosic performances of pop-accessible music but now feature lyrics more relatable to the average person; the vague and confusing lyrics have been replaced by more personal lyrics that tell stories. If you liked Protest the Hero before, then you will definitely enjoy Scurrilous. Perhaps the band will grab a few more fans with their increased pop sensibilities.

And now on to the less-than-good releases so far this year. It features a snooze-fest from a legendary band, a band that has improved since their last misstep (but still miss the mark) and and album that tries so hard to be over the top it over-shoots itself straight into the garbage.

First up are Asking Alexandria, a band exploding onto the “-core” scene, followed quickly by a rabid fanbase of teenage kids. While Reckless and Relentless is a step above Stand Up and Scream, it still feels a lot like an extreme music version of elevator music, or a metal jingle. It feels like a collection of overly stereotypical bits and pieces from bland deathcore and and water-down post-hardcore music. They seemingly deliver only the catchy parts of those genres, but rarely anything else. Still a young band, Asking Alexandria still have plenty of chances to make an album with some substance, it’s just not this album.

It almost feels wrong to put the legendary Amon Amarth in a “worst of” list, but after nine albums of almost the same formula, it’s clear they’re becoming challenged to come up with something new, fresh or interesting to introduce to their very unique brand of viking-influenced melodic death metal. Certainly not a bad record by any means, it still leaves a lot to be desired and doesn’t hold interest very well if you’re only a passing fan of Amon Amarth. Surtur Rising is certainly an album for diehard fans only.

Last but not least are the ever-notable Emmure with their latest album, Speaker of the Dead. This album really only features two things: slam riffs and obscenity-ridden lyrics about being pissed at things or people. If you’re looking for anything other than that, you’d better look elsewhere. At least they’re making music that will help them sell their branded boxing gloves for the mosh pit.

Metal Monday: From Russia With Metal

In the world of industrial metal there isn’t a whole lot of fresh meat—the same handful of artists have reigned supreme over the genre since the early ’90s. Now, e monstrous band from Russia called Illidiance is really hoping to change that. With the release of Damage Theory in mid 2010, Illidiance have found themselves among the legends of industrial metal like Rammstein and Fear Factory (both of which released excellent albums in the last couple years).

Like many industrial metal acts, there really aren’t any acts that can be comparde  to Illidiance. Their hybrid style falls somewhere between the Gothenburg melodic death metal sound and the heavier fringes of thrash metal with add a pinch of Nine Inch Nail for good measure—and really this description only loosely resembles what Illidiance sounds like. The band’s music features a great balance of extremely fast-paced tempos, thrashy riffs, a mix of harsh and clean vocals and spacey synth sounds. Perhaps taking a page from Fear Factory’s book, they also include a fair amount of double-kick drum bursts paired in perfect time with chugging guitar riffs.

Though their studio recordings are really solid,  Illidiance truly shines in their live performances. They’re known for playing extremely tight live and being true showmen on the stage. Complete with matching uniforms that look like something the warriors of a post-apocalyptic world might wear, Illidiance really know how to put on a live show, as their numerous YouTube videos demonstrate.

Somehow, Illidiance find the perfect balance between what you’d expect industrial metal to sound like and something unique and refreshing. So long as they continue to make albums on par with their two previous full-lengths, they’ll be poised to take over the industrial metal throne as the kings from the 1990s fade out. If you’re a fan of Sybreed, Digimortal or any other industrial metal bands, you’d be remiss to not give Illidiance a chance.

Check out the video they released for their song “New Millennium Crushers” from 2010′s Damage Theory:

Metal Monday: Protest The Hero Get Scandalous With Scurrilous

Ontario-based progressive metal band Protest The Hero are asking us to break out the dictionary to figure out what their new album Scurrilous means. For those who don’t feel like looking it up, it essentially refers to something that includes harsh language that could be abusive or slanderous. While there isn’t a whole lot of coarse language in the lyrics, the themes explored on album are quite, dare I say, scurrilous.

A bit of a departure from the previous two albums by Protest The Hero, Scurrilous has a story-telling vibe. As opposed to using vague metaphors, singer Rody uses a direct approach, dropping lyrical gems such as “The songs we sung when we were just young / Have all but lost their meaning / But there’s still a few things / That we keep on believing / Shitty music just ain’t worth makin’ / Smiles and thank-you’s just ain’t worth faking / Some assholes’ hands ain’t worth shaking / And if it’s not broken we need to break it” which is a straight shot to the gut of current music industry views. Other lyrical themes range from alcoholism, suicide, tour life, dealing with loved ones who have cancer, celebrity sex tapes and everything in between.

Musically Scurrilous is right on par with the other incredibly technical and blistering releases by Protest The Hero. Lofty guitar licks, groovy bass sections, hard-hitting drum parts, emotionally provocative vocals—all with the utmost precision and complexity you could ask for in an album. Though a touch less technical than their previous releases, this ”deficiency” is more than made up for in the amount of attitude in the delivery throughout the album. As opposed to just shredding your ambivalent face off for forty-five minutes, they want to add a little salt to the wounds they’re making with their razor-sharp performance.

Most critical reviews of the album have been generally positive, such as Allmusic, Sputnikmusic, Metal Injection and Ultimate-Guitar.com. Other reviews, such as the one featured in the May 2011 issue of Decibel Magazine gives Scurrilous a pedestrian 5/10, stating “A band called Protest The Hero are casting a Blackguard spell of pinched falsettos and never-ending arpeggios” and “will doom you to a life of action figure collecting and eternal virginity.” Well, you can’t please everyone, right?

If you’ve ever listened to Protest The Hero and liked what you heard, this is certainly an album for you. Alternatively, if you like music that has the virtuosity of classically-trained musicians and the songwriting sensibilities of Bob Dylan–all wrapped in a neat metal package– this might also be a great fit for you. You can grab a copy of the record at pretty much every major record retailer, and online shops such as iTunes and Amazon.

Metal Monday: The Metal Fight For Middle Earth

Believe it or not, A Band Of Orcs doesn’t actually hail from Middle Earth. Far from it in fact. The band currently resides in sunny Santa Cruz, California. As the story goes, “a group of young nerds playing Dungeons & Dragons inadvertently summoned the monstrous orcs into [their] realm by rolling dice on a ‘Random Encounter Table.’ Unfortunately for them, they encountered A Band of Orcs, who reacted with all of the inappropriate violence that you might expect from such savage warriors.”

As you may or may not guess, A Band Of Orcs chooses to play one of the more sinister styles of metal: good old fashioned death metal. At times they’re fast and unrelenting, at others they’re slow and brooding. Their sound is a very good mix of the standard death metal styles, but they’re never overly technical at any given moment. There’s also some heavy thrash elements at times—the track”Into The Maelstrom”, for instance, sounds as though it’s a nod to mid-80s Slayer.

As much as you may be inclined to think that the whole “orc thing” is just schtick, it’s not. A Band Of Orcs have some really solid music out in the world right now and are already catching the attention of some pretty important people in the metal world (when Bruce Dickinson chooses to play you on his radio show, you know you’re doing something right). They’re a very multi-dimensional band that branches out farther into the metal world with every new song, only getting better each time.

For the quintessential Band of Orcs track, check out the epic video for “Into The Maelstrom”:

Metal Monday: Blackguard Q&A

If you’ve been to a few metal shows in the past year, there’s a fair chance that you’ve seen Blackguard, if not on purpose then by accident. Since the band’s release of Profugus Mortis in 2009, they’ve toured on a near constant basis—with close to ten tours supporting bands that range from Epica to Necrophagist and all sorts of bands in between. Paul “Ablaze” Zinay, the band’s vocalist took some time out of the band’s rigorous schedule to answer a few questions for us regarding touring and the new record, Firefight:

OS: You’re known as a band that tours incessantly, when did you find time between tours to record Firefight?

PZ: Mostly on the road and the small break we had after the Hypocrisy tour. It’s been tough but Kim (guitar) has a work ethic that puts most people to shame. The man busted his to get this done.

OS: Given that you tour a lot, you have to like it, but what would you say is your favorite part of touring?

PZ: I love playing shows plain and simple. There’s nothing like being on stage, playing the music you love for people who love to hear it.

OS: With the number of tours you’ve done, you’ve toured with a lot of bands. Which bands that you’ve toured with have been the most special?

PZ: The Nevermore tour will always hold a very special place in my black heart [laughs]. Not just them but everyone on that tour (Warbringer, Hatesphere). There was such a good vibe on that tour, it didn’t matter that most of the shows were shit for us.

OS: Are there any bands you’ve really wanted to tour with but haven’t had the opportunity?

PZ: Sure. I’d love to tour with some of the really big bands like Dimmu [Borgir], Cradle Of Filth, Children of Bodom, ect. just to be playing in front of so many people. Actually, I would kill to tour with Municipal Waste, I think that would be fun.

OS: When you were writing and recording Firefight, the band was still a six piece (Jo still being on keyboards) but there isn’t much keyboard on the album—what’s the story here?

PZ: Actually the record was pretty much all done after Jo left. After the Hypocrisy tour we scrapped everything we had been working on and started from scratch. There’s pretty much a full Blackguard record recorded that will never see the light of day.

OS: It’s quite clear by the band’s style that the primary roots of your bands are in power metal and folk metal, but what bands would you say had the biggest influence on you as a band?

PZ: Yeesh, I don’t know. I suppose there’s a lot of bands that have “made up the landscape” of the band so to speak. I suppose you can throw in anything from Nightwish, to Rhapsody of Fire, to Megadeth, to Ensiferum…and hell probably a few more in between.

Firefight comes out March 29th via Victory Records, and is probably the band’s heaviest and most straight-forward album to date. Definitely worth checking out if you’re a fan of any of the following bands: Ensiferum, Children of Bodom, Norther, Equilibrium, Nevermore, Kalmah, Wintersun, Dragonforce, etc.

Metal Monday: The Summoned

What happens when a band is influenced by acts such as Death, Necrophagist, Cynic, Origin, Between The Buried And Me, Decapitated, The Black Dahlia Murder, The Faceless, Into The Moat, The Dillinger Escape Plan & more? Well, it doesn’t always mean much, but for Massachusetts-based The Summoned, it means you have one exceptionally-talented, technical and brutal metal band. These OurStage metal veterans have seen a fair amount on success within the Metal Channel since 2008. Their latest single, “The Flood” is perhaps one of their best songs yet, and will be featured on their upcoming album If Only Minds Could Paint Pictures.

If Only Minds Could Paint Pictures includes one of the bands older, classic tracks as well as some new barn burners much in line with “The Flood” and their more gnarly tracks. When listening to the album you might recognize the older tune, but it’s been re-recorded with the latest band lineup and sounds absolutely killer. Until the album is released in April, the band is biding their time by playing a ton of shows in the New England area, including the second annual Rock Your Face Off Fest which will be headlined by Revocation. If you’re in the greater New England area and you’ve not yet seen these guys, you’re missing out on a terrific show.

You can currently preorder If Only Minds Could Paint Pictures from The Summoned’s web store, and if you’re not totally sold on preordering it yet, let them assault your ears first. Surely you’ll succumb to their will.

Metal Monday: Are The Swedes Best At Metal?

There are certain countries that are considered to be a cut above the rest in terms of the metal they produce. At the top of the metal food chain are countries like Canada, Finland, Italy, Sweden, Norway, the UK and the US—but who reigns supreme in the metal world? There is a strong case to be made for each of these countries, but in the last two decades it’s hard to argue against Sweden as metal’s capital.

Alternative metal band, Katatonia

Though Sweden might not have the most metal bands out of all these countries (that title probably belongs to the US), they have birthed a few bands in the last few decades that have gone on to pioneer, revolutionize, or create a new sub-genre of metal. Bands such as In Flames, Dark Tranquillity and At The Gates are the forefathers melodic death metal (and what would be come to known as the “Gothenburg sound”). Meshuggah are often considered one of the most unique metal bands of today, inspiring countless bands to come after them are—they’re also often cited as the main influence for the recent trend of “djent” bands). Opeth is largely considered the pinnacle for progressive death metal bands, with each of their nine full-length albums earning extremely positive critical response. Candlemass is one of the original epic doom metal bands that would carve the modern and current definition of doom metal.

The legendary Dark Tranquillity

Even if you take out the list of heavily influential metal bands that shaped the current lay of the metal land, you’re still left with a list of massively talented bands: Amon Amarth, Arch Enemy, Katatonia, Bathory, Hypocrisy, Bloodbath, Soilwork, Scar Symmetry, Cult of Luna, and the list goes on. One of the biggest deciding factors, in addition to the quality of these bands, is their longevity. Even pioneering bands like Dark Tranquillity, Opeth and Meshuggah are still putting out landmark releases. That’s what it’s all about: sustained, high quality, albums year after year.

Of course, there can be strong arguments made for any of the aforementioned countries—the UK produced Motörhead, Black Sabbath and Judas Priest and creating the entire genre of metal. The US can be credited for producing the “big four” of thrash, among countless other great bands. Still, even considering all of the arguments for other countries to reign supreme, it’s hard to argue against Sweden.

Metal Monday: Dr. Acula Q&A

Dr. Acula are considered to be one of many bands in their genre that takes a lot of heat from the other metal/hardcore subgenres, but they’re not about to let that slow down their operation. Their latest album, Slander was released on Victory Records February 15th, and it’s clear they mean business (even if their business is partying). Often rumored as a joke band, they quickly dispelled that rumor, saying “this band was made to have fun and play good tunes.”

When you get right down to it, Dr. Acula is a party band (as they’ve referred to themselves). It’s not entirely clear what being a party band actually entails, but the guys were more than happy to describe it: “Having a good time, enjoying your life. ‘Party’ doesn’t mean we do tons of drugs and get messed up every second. You can still party without all of that. We go out there and rage it up; get sketchy and play music!”

For being a party band, Dr. Acula have some pretty heavy and explicit lyrics in their songs. In their song “Pure and Immature (Goon)” they say: “You prey on the people who own what you lack/ for no lack of attempting you fail to attack/ Karma’s a bitch/one that you can have back.” That being said, their songs aren’t always 100% serious in nature, such as the first single “Who You Gonna Call?!” exemplifies.

One of the more interesting parts of the latest album are the samples, and there are some juicy ones. I asked if there were any samples that didn’t make it to the album, the band clarified, “No, pretty much everything we wanted to use made the album. There were some we saved; we don’t wanna over flood with samples. We try to balance it out (intro samples, outro samples, mid song samples) the samples we didn’t use might make the next album though. Who knows.”

The one thing about being a “party band” that really shines through for Dr. Acula is their affinity for the obscene and over-the-top. In their album trailer for Slander, they rated the album for “inappropriate audiences”. I asked if they got a lot of criticism for being excessively vulgar at times. “Yes, we get shit all the time. We have the party title so right away everything negative falls under that. We use the ‘fuck’ word a lot. [laughs]“. On their most outrageous song to date, the band said,  ”‘Fire Crotch (The Venereal Van Ride)’ is nutty! It’s fast, it’s heavy, it’s got catchy lyrics and it’s a lot of fun to play live!”

Since their inception, Dr. Acula has seen many members come and go. “This band has always been known for having member changes. It’s like anything else though, you’re looking for the right fit, the perfect match. We have gone through a lot of shit to find this lineup right here, to be able to put out this album Slander.  Past members have quit, been kicked out, didn’t wanna tour anymore, have had big egos and a ton more reasons. This band is here to have fun and play music. Keep the drama at home. [laughs] But yeah, this line up will be around for a while.”

To round off the questions, I asked the heaviest and most important question to ask the notorious party band: “If you could choose to party with any person, live or dead, who would you choose?” The band’s response was simple and to the point: “KISS. They probably get a million girls and do a million pounds of drugs! [laughs] Party on!”

You can snag Dr. Acula’s latest album as well as their other merch from the Victory Records Web store, or you can always go to Amazon or iTunes to grab an MP3 copy of the album.

Metal Monday: Dr. Acula Q&A

Dr. Acula are considered to be one of many bands in their genre that takes a lot of heat from the other metal/hardcore subgenres, but they’re not about to let that slow down their operation. Their latest album, Slander was released on Victory Records February 15th, and it’s clear they mean business (even if their business is partying). Often rumored as a joke band, they quickly dispelled that rumor, saying “this band was made to have fun and play good tunes.”

When you get right down to it, Dr. Acula is a party band (as they’ve referred to themselves). It’s not entirely clear what being a party band actually entails, but the guys were more than happy to describe it: “Having a good time, enjoying your life. ‘Party’ doesn’t mean we do tons of drugs and get messed up every second. You can still party without all of that. We go out there and rage it up; get sketchy and play music!”

For being a party band, Dr. Acula have some pretty heavy and explicit lyrics in their songs. In their song “Pure and Immature (Goon)” they say: “You prey on the people who own what you lack/ for no lack of attempting you fail to attack/ Karma’s a bitch/one that you can have back.” That being said, their songs aren’t always 100% serious in nature, such as the first single “Who You Gonna Call?!” exemplifies.

One of the more interesting parts of the latest album are the samples, and there are some juicy ones. I asked if there were any samples that didn’t make it to the album, the band clarified, “No, pretty much everything we wanted to use made the album. There were some we saved; we don’t wanna over flood with samples. We try to balance it out (intro samples, outro samples, mid song samples) the samples we didn’t use might make the next album though. Who knows.”

The one thing about being a “party band” that really shines through for Dr. Acula is their affinity for the obscene and over-the-top. In their album trailer for Slander, they rated the album for “inappropriate audiences”. I asked if they got a lot of criticism for being excessively vulgar at times. “Yes, we get shit all the time. We have the party title so right away everything negative falls under that. We use the ‘fuck’ word a lot. [laughs]“. On their most outrageous song to date, the band said,  ”‘Fire Crotch (The Venereal Van Ride)’ is nutty! It’s fast, it’s heavy, it’s got catchy lyrics and it’s a lot of fun to play live!”

Since their inception, Dr. Acula has seen many members come and go. “This band has always been known for having member changes. It’s like anything else though, you’re looking for the right fit, the perfect match. We have gone through a lot of shit to find this lineup right here, to be able to put out this album Slander.  Past members have quit, been kicked out, didn’t wanna tour anymore, have had big egos and a ton more reasons. This band is here to have fun and play music. Keep the drama at home. [laughs] But yeah, this line up will be around for a while.”

To round off the questions, I asked the heaviest and most important question to ask the notorious party band: “If you could choose to party with any person, live or dead, who would you choose?” The band’s response was simple and to the point: “KISS. They probably get a million girls and do a million pounds of drugs! [laughs] Party on!”

You can snag Dr. Acula’s latest album as well as their other merch from the Victory Records Web store, or you can always go to Amazon or iTunes to grab an MP3 copy of the album.

Metal Monday: Metal Covers Of Non-Metal Songs

Cover tunes have been a big part of pop music in the last few decades, and an even bigger part of music throughout history (though the idea of a cover tune is rather new, they’re historically known as standards). Some covers are well known to be remakes, other times people don’t even know songs they love are covers. For example, you might not know Jimi Hendrix wasn’t the original performer of “All Along The Watchtower” —that one’s a Bob Dylan song. But, cover songs aren’t only for rock and pop artists.  Metal artists do their fair share of covers as well, sometimes even full albums (See Overkill, Rage Against The Machine and Evergreen Terrace).

Personally, I think metal musicians covering songs that weren’t originally metal songs is rather brilliant. Here are some great renditions of songs that are decidedly more heavy than their originals:

  1. “Still Fly” by Big Tymers, as covered by The Devil Wears Prada for the compilation Punk Goes Crunk
  2. “Baby One More Time” by Britney Spears, as covered by August Burns Red for the Punk Goes Pop Vol. 2 compilation
  3. “Lookin’ Out My Back Door” by Creedence Clearwater Revival, as performed by Children of Bodom on their album Skeletons In The Closet
  4. “The Sound Of Silence” by Simon & Garfunkel, as performed by Nevermore on their album Dead Heart In A Dead World
  5. “Everything Counts” by Depeche Mode, as covered by In Flames on their 1997 album Whoracle
  6. “White Room” by Cream, as performed by Demons & Wizards as a bonus track on their self-titled album
  7. “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting” by Elton John, as performed by Flotsam & Jetsam on their album No Place For Disgrace
  8. “Louie Louie” by The Kingsmen, as performed by Motörhead

 


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