Mastodon – Emperor of Sand (Reprise 2017)

Mastodon has climbed from a band I hardly cared about up to a band I keep an eye on, and now with Emperor of Sand I think they climb even higher in my attention-tree. Mastodon keeps growing further and further away from the sludge of their earlier album and incorporating more progressive elements and adding melodies.

This might not sit right with fans of their classic sound, all the whining about ‘selling out that’ surfaced on the net when Once More ‘round the Sun was released will, probably, bubble back up. I don’t care; this is the Mastodon I enjoy the most. The band that keeps things groovy, heavy, technical and also incorporates some melody, nice hooks and energy, this is the band I like.

The sludge is by no means gone from the bands sound. The latter part of the record is especially sludge heavy, songs like Andromeda and Scorpion Breath are the best examples of the classic Mastodon style. Mid paced, but high frequency songs, with a lot of drums.

The closer, Jaguar God, is the longest track of the record, just short of 8 minutes. It starts of slow with a long melodic part and some weird vocals, complete with harmonies. After about 2 minutes the mood changes, the sound harshens and tempo increases ever so slightly. After about another minute or so, they start building up and bringing back down the intensity and the song keeps shifting from side to side. Then the tempo kicks up another nudge with some nice guitar work. Suddenly the song takes on an Opeth type of chromatic riffing, but with the intensity on high. Then the song relaxes into a melodic outro, playing on the mood and chords of the intro. What a great song, epic! I love it, just amazing … this is the kind tune that makes me feel … something… it’s journey …

The lead tracks were Sultans Curse, Show Yourself and Andromeda. Show Yourself is the most accessible song on the album, the least complicated so to speak and has hooky chorus that easily sticks and can be hummed immediately. It’s a good song, and catchy. Sultans Curse has more of classic Mastodon sound, more of sludge edge to it. I wasn’t too impressed by this song when it was released as a teaser, however it works great as an opener. It sets the mood perfectly; this is going to be a blend of heaviness, grooves, sludgy, muddy sound and intricate melodies and song structures. Everything one would expect from this band. The song itself might not be their strongest track, but opens up the record in a great way. Andromeda  is heavier than the other two singles, both lyrically and musically. It reminds of Trampled Under Hoof from the debut, without having any major similarities other than the sound.

Steambreather has a few opening notes, before the riff kicks inn, that it’s so similar to Phantom Lord that I had to check if Metallica had snuck into my playlist. The rest of the song is a midtempo, muddy riff, almost a stoner riff on the verse. The chorus is actually to popy sounding to me. Precious Stones is catchy as all hell and seems to made for the grand old men of rock radio, I would imagine Eddie Trunk will go bananas over this track.

The record kind of falls a bit in the middle as Roots Remain, Word to the Wise and Ancient Kingdom  is structured in similar manner and also has communalities in tone and riffs. There is nothing wrong with these songs as single tracks, when they are piled on top of each other like this, it gets a bit pale and boring. Scorpion Breath and Andromeda  brings the focus back, the sludge is thick on both of these and they should speak to old fans, as mentioned above.

Mastodon is kind of heading into dangerous waters now, if they take this popy direction any further they risk a Megadeth fall, think Risk and Supercollider, when the urge to get airplay outweighs the integrity of the musician and the result is awful music, that falls flat for the pop lovers and the rockers. If Mastodon slows down even further they might end up in this exact spot.

But for now, the music sounds inspired and heavy and groovy. The lyrics have lost a little edge. Brann is still a wicked drummer, the three vocalists combo still works.

 

Recommended tracks: Jaguar God, Show Yourself, Steambreather.

Opeth – Sorceress (Moderbolaget 2016)

Opeth continue there seventies inspired progressive rock thing. The band holds on to their new style with a firm grip, but this album is … I don’t know how I feel about this album. It’s sounds kind of tired and uninspired. I could deal with the new direction on Pale Communion and Heritage because the music was inspired and there was a sense of honesty and joy to the music. This time around the music is still, at times, phenomenal and beautiful, but it’s sounds soulless. A lot of the songs seem to be progressive for the sake of being progressive, not to make a contribution to the song.

Opeth has continuously developed their sound, all the records show some sort of progress from the last one. Sorceress seems to me like Pale Communion: the lost tracks or something in that direction. The music seem like lesser tracks for some reason. I’m not a big fan of songs that use a full stop and then continue in a totally different direction, if you can’t make the two parts work together, then maybe they should be two separate songs?

Choosing artful, macabre and beautiful coverart has always been one of Opeths strengths. The  Sorceress front cover is gorgeous and gruesome at same time; a peacock with a sinister look fading over a heap of rotting corpses. This might be the most metal thing about the record, perhaps the only thing that is metal at all actually.

The title track is exactly what to expect what I’ve come to expect from Opeth. A lot of guitar runs, in a partly chromatic scale, and nice, but complex structure and melody. The Wilde Flowers might have the most boring riff and rhythm figure Opeth has ever released. The lyrics are rather good on this one, but the main riff just ruins it for me. The melodic middle section is however quite excellent, at least until the vocals kicks in again.

Will o the Wisp is a boring song, which brings nothing new, nothing exciting. Why this song was pushed before the release of the album don’t understand. Sorceress 2 continues the trend of boring music, but this time Åkerfeld uses a falsetto vocal, that just doesn’t work. It sounds horrid.

The Seventh Sojourn is more of a classic Opeth composition. It builds and sways in nice melodic waves. Even though the awful falsetto returns at the end of this song as well, it all balances out. Strange Brew is yet another rater boring intro. It’s beautiful in a way, but it takes a while to get going. Yet another song that uses a single piano to set a rather melancholy mood, until the melodic guitar kicks in, after about two minutes. Magic ensues 30 seconds later, when a manic drum part starts up and takes the song in strange new directions. This is one of the songs that really bring the elements of Opeth together in a brilliant way.

Era I kind of like and dislike at the same time. The strong guitar licks are a plus. To me some of the progressive elements seem out of place and brings nothing to the song.

All in all this is not an album I will listen to a whole lot. It will probably please fans of the last to records and bring nothing but distance to purist of the pre-Heritage-era. I’m a medium fan of both eras, maybe leaning towards the Blackwater Park times more than Watershed, and Heritage rather than the this new one or Pale Communion. If you do like the newer material and direction than this will probably be right up you ally. When I go to find some doomy, seventies inspired, melodic rock, I think I will prefer HEX AD. new record to this one.

Recommended tracks: The Seventh Sojourn, Strange Brew

Gojira – Magma (Roadrunner Records 2016)

This album is just beautiful, both visually and musically. Gojira has chosen the path of many of their contemporaries in sludge / death metal segment, and are headed towards are more progressive sound. This record is heading in the direction of Enslaved or, to some degree, Opeth.

They’ve kept a lot of their heaviness, but added much to the melodic side of their sound. The soundscape is still similar to the earlier material, with a heavy bottom and a lot of going on in the background. And overall the sound is as atmospheric as ever. The sound is layered with a heavy bass and drum sound in the bottom layer, crushing guitars in the middle section and lighter top from lead guitars and vocals. Even when the harsher vocals turn up, it still has a softer feel then earlier material.

Silvera has sneaky intro and continues into an almost Meshuggah-ish riffing. This style of riffing is prevalent on other songs as well, stranded for one.

The album is really cohesive in that songs end and slide into each other, which makes for a seamless listening experience. The record doesn’t have any real single-tracks; they all sort of belong together. If I had to pull out a couple of songs I guess I would choose the title track, Low Lands and Liberation.

Magma, the track, has that certain sound and feel which I like in Gojira: Big variety in intensity, creative arrangement and great lyrics. Low Lands  is a haven of heavy and melodic riffs and turns into a beautiful soft outro. Liberation is Gojira at their most melodic and experimental. Usually they have experienced with atmospheric sounds, but this is more of a melodic and rhythmic song. It’s a great ending to a great album.

I like that they keep the songs rather short, and don’t feel the need to push the ten minute mark on every song, and keep it around five minutes. I wish they would let even more rules behind, because they’re still quite bound by metals dogmas. Gojira deserve to be much bigger than they are. Even though this album is beautiful in almost every way, I don’t think this is the kind of album that brakes through to the kid crowds.

 

Recommended tracks: Magma, Low Lands

Rating: 4,5 / 5

Communic – Live 2016

Communic – Live 2016

Communic is perhaps my favorite Norwegian band of all time. Seeing time live for the first time was a truly magnificent experience. I had always been wondering how it would sound live, just thinking about the technical difficulty of most the riffs and the fact the Oddleiv sings while playing these monster riffs. His flawless playing this night left me awestruck.

The sound was … lets just say unique. I began the concert some way in the back. I had decided to keep to the back so that I could really hear what was going on and feel the music. But on noticing that most of the audience was hanging back and that there was room in the front, the temptation and ferocity of the music drove me to the front row.

The band played great, and up close in this little venue you had the sound of the monitors and not the PA, and it actually sounded better up there than it did out on floor. My guess is that Communic play this particular venue quite often, they seemed to be on a first name basis with more than a few of the people in the crowd. The connection between band and audience was great.

The set contained a lot of my personal favorites and they played for about an hour. Like a lot of the others from the crowd, I skipped the main band and just hung out in the bar until we got kicked out. All in all a great experience and a great show.

Enslaved – In Times

I’m not sure where to begin with this album. I guess I may start with the fact that it’s a tad better than Riitiiir, but also quite similar, so much so that it could be Riitiiir part 2. The sound and feel of the music is in the same style Enslaved have been sporting since the brilliant ISA album.

 

They have kept the feel of extreme metal with razor sharp guitar, pounding bass and complete with blast beats and all. Grutles angry, rasping vocals is a staple of their sound as well. I’d like to give props to the his vocal technique, not a lot of metal singers can match his gruffness and still keep the diction understandable. A lot of people sacrifice lyrics for power, especially in the harder sides of metal.

 

The songwriting is the main reason why Enslaved are among the top acts in metal today. The songs are intelligent, progressive, melodic, brutal and, at times, beautiful. They move and flow in natural ways, without sounding predictable but rather …. familiar. Different riffs and parts build on one another, and gives the music a natural sound, just listened to the opener Thurisaz Dreaming and feel how it all fits together. Enslaved has become a kind of lay back form of extreme metal. Even their harder parts have this laid back feel and seems more mellow and somehow more comfortable than other metal / rock of the same ilk.

 

This album is rimmed with progressive turns and hooks. Time signatures change subtly, but effectively. The combination av the gruff, black metal style vocals, and the clean vocals is still working well. The clean vocals can be a bit bland at times, but works well as a mood setter, the prime example beeing One Thousand Years of Rain. It is this combination of the light and dark that works. I would guess that any one of them on it’s own would be quite tiresome.

 

The cover art has been pulled back and are simpler than the previous albums. The labels are white with a “one line drawing”. It’s super effective and beautiful. The down to earth artwork reflects the music perfectly. Sailing towards the rising sun is a truly beautiful view and is a metaphor for returning home in norse mythology, which plays right into Enslaveds returning viking/norse theme.


Recommended downloads: Nauthir Bleeding, One Thousand Years of Rain, Thurisaz Dreaming

Nevermore – Enemies of Reality (Century Media 2003)

Nevermore – Enemies of Reality

I originally bought this album solely because of the cover art. This amazing backlit bent mask with worms crawling out of its mouth. I had seen it on the shelves for months. I had no idea about what kind of music Nevermore played, but that cover was so unbelievably cool, I had to have it. Being a student at the time I had to save money to afford it, it took me two months. I figured I had to listen to it, since I had bought it and all. From the first sizzling notes to the exploding ending, I was completely hooked.

I loved it all, the complexity of the song structures, the impossibility of the guitar playing, the share force of the rhythm section and the power of vocals. It was heavy metal, thrash metal, death metal, progressive metal and power metal all rolled in to one. It was something completely new to my ears, and it even had beautiful melodies.

The album starts out with some sizzling guitar notes that slowly crescendos into the full frontal attack of the title track. When the track kicks inn it sets the standard for the rest of the album, with some amazing guitar work and slightly out of line rhythms.

Second track, “Ambivalent” is a step up in intensity and with a great vocal delivery by Warren Dane. “Never Purify” has some finger breaking guitar work and the rhythm has a sort of limp, that makes the whole song seem a little askew, which I find unbelievably great.

“Tomorrow turned into Yesterday” is a sort of ballad, but still has more power and brutality than other metal bands only achieve in their dreams. Again Warrel gets to show yet another of his many vocal strengths, Loomis shows off his amazing technique in the solo. And the bridge man, the bridge … it’s so good.

But let’s not forget about speed, “I, Voyager” is just that, speed. And the pre-chorus is a show of how tight a band should be. Did I mention the great sing-along chorus? Well, I should, the chorus is a great sing-along chorus.

“Create the Infinite” is another fast one and probably the heaviest number on the album

“Who Decides” is another ballad, but the incredible guitar work by Jeff Loomis makes me dreamy and jealous of his skills. The lyrics are thought provoking, quasi philosophical stuff and not the usual ballad themes of love and/or loss.

“Noumenon” is slow, atmospheric and, at times creepy. “There is no stronger drug than reality” as the lyrics say over and over again. This is not my favorite track, to say the least. I’m not into the extremely atmospheric stuff in general, I enjoy it at times but usually not. Wow, I’m ambiguous and not making any sense.

“Seed Awakening” is a great finisher. It’s a great sum up of the power, brutal technicality and energy of this album.

Now I can truly understand why a lot of people don’t like this record, I truly can. It’s a difficult record to get into for most people. The blend of ballady, soft melodies with some truly progressive elements that leads to some spectacular metal can take a toll on the sanity.

Crimson Glory – Astronomica

 

Crimson Glory should get more props than they do for their impact on the mid eighties prog-metal scene. Instead everybody into this music goes on and on about Queensrÿche or maybe Fates Warning, while some whine about how Dream Theater changed it all and everything else sucks.

Crimson Glorys brilliance was that of solid songwriting, weird rhythmic figures that blended perfectly with guitar harmonies and vocal melodies. This gave the progressive element a certain sense of subtlety and not in your face like the seventies prog rock. Just listen to Eternal World off of the Transcendence record and feel how it all melts together perfectly.

A huge part of Crimson Glorys sound was the vocals of Midnight. An unbelievably powerful voice and some of the most intense melodies I’ve ever heard. Sadly he left the band after their failed flirt with pop music in the early nineties, and is now passed away, may he forever rest in peace. What would they sound like without him?

In his place they got Wade Black, I don’t think I have ever heard him in anything, besides this record. I love the vocals on this record, his voice is really high pitched and he also uses an amazing falsetto to peak the intensity and energy of the songs. He’s not as good as Midnight, but he has an honesty to his voice and this amazing, powerful, energetic falsetto scream.

To make a comeback in the late nineties with subtle prog metal is just bad timing. There is quite a lot about this album that has the sound and feel of the eighties. Especially the guitar sound and riffing harkens back their roots. The production however sounds crisp and clear. The bass sounds powerful and almost funky at times. The drums can at times be a little hollow or sound like a tin drum, but as far as mixing etc, this album is right on the money. Oh, I should mention that I have only heard the 2006 remastered, 24 carat gold disc, so maybe I should not talk too much about the sound quality, for all I know the original album could sound like crap.

Astronomica have several outstanding tracks, actually most of them are excellent. No, they’re actually all excellent. War of the Worlds is a powerhouse, up tempo, amazing guitar riff, powerful bass and soaring vocals. The same could, and should, be said about the title track. It has this sort of wave structure to it, as it peaks with bursts of energy and intensity, and then later cools down and mellows out in a natural way.

The Edge of Forever, Lucifers Hammer and The Other Side of Midnight are all in same direction as Lost Reflections or maybe the title track off of Transcendence. Dreamy, with long slow paced melody / instrumental parts. Lucifers Hammer also has this hard rocking, banging ending that just screams for a good live setting, with fists banging the air and me screaming at the top of my lungs.

Touch the Sun and Cyber Christ, and in some ways Cydonia, all have more of a heavy metal vibe and is the heaviest numbers on the record. Touch the Sun is a bit slower, but heavy as all that. Cyber Christ has a Dio gone prog feel. The main riff is a heavy heavy piece of work, and the chorus is just brilliant, with a strong vocal melody.

Cydonia, the last track of the album, is also the weakest song of the album. But that doesn’t mean it’s not great, but in comparison to the other tracks on here it’s definitely lacking something.

I don’t know why they couldn’t get a go of it with Wade Black, but their comeback didn’t work out. They’ve had several goes at it over the last ten years or so. At least once with Midnight before he died, and I think they tried a second time with Wade Black too. I believe a new album was recorded at some point, but issues with their record label got in the way of that. They also had a good turn with current Queensrÿche vocal god Todd la Torre. God, how I wish they had made an album with him.

I absolutely love this album, so much so I think this would be one of my desert island albums, you can only bring five, right?

Recommended downloads: ALL OF THEM!