Album Reviews

ALICE COOPER “RAISE THE DEAD – LIVE FROM WACKEN”

ALICE COOPER “RAISE THE DEAD – LIVE FROM WACKEN”

I’ve had an obsession for the “Godfather of Shock Rock,” Alice Cooper, since I was 13 years old, so this review is going to be a lengthy and it contains a flashback.

Mom had a pretty decent music collection for someone so tragically uncool. I had been given a record player for my birthday and was looking through her record collection for something to play (yes … I’m that fucking old). I found this light blue album with a dead-looking man in a top hat and bugs on the cover. The title read Welcome To My Nightmare. My mom owned this record as well as the 8-track, and since she bought it twice, I thought it must be pretty good.

Welcome To My Nightmare delivered exactly what it promised on the cover; a journey through a string of nightmarish situations in the mind of a child-turned-serial-killer named Steven.

For the majority of this album, I saw things in my head from Steven’s viewpoint, although I didn’t learn the name of the character I was inhabiting until much later on. The title track started to play, and I immediately remembered it from Cooper’s appearance on The Muppet Show when he magically turned Miss Piggy into a monster made out of an Erector set with feathers.The theme of prostitution was visited on “Devil’s Food” (although this number wasn’t featured on The Muppet Show), followed by a monologue by Vincent Price discussing the highly potent venom of the black widow spider that leads into aptly titled “Black Widow.” “Only Women Bleed” visited  the theme of spousal abuse, no doubt brought on by an experience from Steven’s youth. I realized how truly messed up  Steven is when I got to “Cold Ethyl,” a story of a necrophiliac who has a relationship with a woman he keeps in his freezer. It was a lot for my 13-year-old brain to digest, but it was also this twisted sense of humor that hooked me for life.

For those not in the know, towards the end of the record, Steven realizes that he has committed murder. Although he is captured and incarcerated, he breaks free as documented in the album’s closing track,Escape,” and the listener is left to ponder what sort of madness and debauchery he engages from then on. Despite the fact that the album is over 40 years old, I always hoped that the character of Steven would be revisited in the future, given that he has been referenced on several Alice Cooper albums since.

With all of that said, I am ready to move on to what you came here to read about, Alice Cooper‘s newest release, Raising the Dead – Live from Wacken, a live set recorded at Wacken Open Air in August 2013.We all know the hits, but the pleasant surprises on this album (other than the musicianship, of course) are the deep cuts and the covers.

Opening the set with “Hello Hooray” is one of those surprises, given that a song of this quality and age would normally be reserved for an encore. I’m sure some purists won’t like the newer versions of the older songs here, but this is a different band and a different time, so I  am all for it. The newer tracks also stand up well against the classics. I prefer “Caffeine” here than on the album version, and  “Dirty Diamonds” contains some excellent soloing from guitarist Orianthe and drummer Glen Sobel who sound like they should have always been there.

It takes a brave man to cover just one iconic song by an iconic band, but Cooper isn’t afraid. He takes on four of the most famous and familiar songs of all time on this release, and his version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady” is one of the standout tracks. This might be a good time to talk about vocals, and it is clear that Alice won’t be joining a boy band any time soon. Does it matter?  Not a bit.

In case it isn’t already abundantly clear, I absolutely love Raising the Dead – Live from Wacken.  Some of his previous live albums have been a bit underwhelming, but this one is essential for any Alice Cooper fan.

 Raise the Dead – Live from Wacken is out now on UDR Music.

Rating: 5/5 Stars

ALL THEM WITCHES ” LIGHTNING AT THE DOOR”

ALL THEM WITCHES ” LIGHTNING AT THE DOOR”

I don’t really know where to start with All Them Witches. They take stoner metal to a whole new level with Lightning at the Door.

You take a lot of Kyuss, throw in some Black Sabbath, a little Led Zeppelin, a smidgen of Lynyrd Skynyrd, and a pinch of the Queens of the Stone Age, and you will come reasonably close to the vibe created by All Them Witches. “Funeral for a Great Drunken Bird,” which is filled with fuzz-infused riffs and screaming leads, opens up this “psycha-Delta blues” feast.  The simplicity is pure genius. “When God Comes Back” is a whiskey-drinking, bong-smoking, stomper of a tune. “The Marriage of Coyote Woman” is a slower, bluesier song that slowly builds into a massive crescendo. “Swallowed by the Sea” brings out the “Southern” feel to the album before breaking into a massive, doom-laden riff. “Charles William” epitomizes All Them Witches, “Romany Dagger” puts you in the middle of a gypsy caravan, and “Mountain” brings the album full circle.  It opens with a slow, simple drum beat, but then builds to a huge wall of sound before dissipating. It is the perfect composition.

The sound All Them Witches produce has an incredible “live” feel throughout Lightning at the Door, and this leads to an impressive listening experience.

Lightning At the Door is self-released and out now.

Rating: 5/5 Stars

MYRKUR “SELF-TITLED”

MYRKUR “SELF-TITLED”

I’m not sure what my expectations were going into this self-titled EP, and I’m even more unsure if they have been surpassed, or even met after several listens. The sole piece of information I had going into it was that the project was a one-woman black metal outfit. I did some research though, and uncovered some interesting morsels of info.

Myrkur is Amalie Bruun, born in Denmark, native to New York City. She has dabbled in modeling, and is a member of a pop duo called Ex Cops. A black metal endeavor seems a tad out of place, though that had me all the more intrigued. Does this EP shine and stand out among the countless other (one-person or otherwise) black metal acts out there?

Yes and no. It’s hard to see the light at times, but it is definitely there. Out of the seven songs on this EP, only one of them really goes anywhere or has any kind of originality. Now, not being original isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Nothing is really original anymore, but you have to do something creative or inventive in order to stand out. There is absolutely potential here, but I feel it isn’t explored and utilized as much as it could have been. The majority of the material here has Myrkur incorporating ethereal, layered clean vocals on top of black metal, with an occasional growl here or there. The second track, “Frosne Vind,” and the outro, “Ulvesangen,” feel like wonderful beginnings to songs. “Frosne Vind” contains the the aforementioned clean vocals over laid-back acoustic and electric guitars, sounding eerily similar to an old folk song, while “Ulvesangen” is barely a minute long and has just the vocals. Both of these tracks end quite abruptly, squandering any sort of potential they could have had to grow and flourish.

“Ravnens Banner,” “Må Du Brænde I Helvede,” “Latvian Fegurð,” and “Dybt I Skoven,” while competent songs, all suffer from the same issue; they are not memorable. That’s not to say they are bad by any means, but after numerous listens, I can’t recall a single riff or line from any of them. In fact, “Nattens Barn” is the only song I can remember specific riffs and parts from. It’s the only track on the EP that feels fully developed and complete. It’s fantastic. The lush cleans meshed with subtle growls mix wonderfully with the blasts and searing tremolo riffing. If each song had the exploration and identity that “Nattens Barn” has, I would be praising this EP up and down.

It may seem like I am heading towards a bad grade, but don’t let that deter you from giving Myrkur a shot. The potential is there. All of the parts required to create an astounding, beautiful black metal album are here, but some of those parts are hiding behind others or are wearing a coat of redundant paint. If more time is taken to completely realize and develop the songs, Myrkur could release a follow-up that will blow this EP, and most black metal, out of the over-saturated waters. I’m looking forward to her next release.

Myrkur is out now on Relapse Records.

Rating: 2.5/5 Stars

DECAPITATED “BLOOD MANTRA”

DECAPITATED “BLOOD MANTRA”

Hailing from Krosno, Poland, Decapitated have never been much for tying themselves down. Each album sounds different than its predecessor, and they repeatedly take a new “approach” to the technical death metal that they play so well.

Decapitated have undergone their fair share of misery in the past few years. An automobile accident led to the death of drummer Witold “Vitek” Kieltyka and rendered vocalist Adrian “Covan” Kowanek unable to perform with the band, but they have soldiered on. Guitar mastermind Waclaw “Vogg” Kieltyka resurrected Decapitated and brought them back to their legendary form with the addition of vocalist Rafal “Rasta” Piotrowski, bassist Pawel Pasek and drummer Michal Lysejko.

Vogg has always been know for his skill and precision, and it resonates on Blood Mantra. While it may not sound like the Decapitated of old,  it has a fresh, stripped-down energy. “Exiled in Flesh” opens the album heavy and fast, and Piotrowski’s vocals are spot on here. You can feel the anguish in his voice. “The Blasphemous Psalm to the Dummy God” and “Veins” are pure fucking genius and expose brutality at its best. The title track has more of a groove-type feel to it, similar to Devil Driver. “Nest” continues the melodic feel, and, again, Piotrowski’s vocals fit like a missing puzzle piece. “Instinct” is a swirling mix of textures and the playing shows Decapitated at their best. “Blindness” is more droning and hypnotic than anything these guys have ever done, and it must be listened to at maximum volume. “Red Sun,” with its atmospheric feel, closes out Blood Mantra after a solid 39-minute beating.  In fact, my only complaint is that this album is too damned short!

With Blood Mantra, Decapitated have proven that they can overcome obstacles and evolve while maintaining their place in the halls of metal music.

Blood Mantra is out now on Nuclear Blast Records.

Rating: 5/5 Stars

BELPHEGOR “CONJURING THE DEAD”

BELPHEGOR “CONJURING THE DEAD”

Belphegor reference religion and God with a forked tongue, and the evil spew is intense on Conjuring the Dead.

Over 10 tracks, frontman Helmuth leads listeners to the slaughter with the help of Serpenth (bass), Marthyn (drums) and Schoft (guitar). It is gnarly and dark; an unpolished attack on religion with a bleak regard for humanity. Where this album wins is in the crawling riffs that hang heavy upon driving blasts, as on the title track, creating captivating textures through intriguing tempos. Where it loses is in the played-out blackened death ethos that permeates tracks like “Res Tremendae Majestatis.”

Conjuring the Dead is ultimately a mixed back of tricks and treats. That said, Belphegor prove that they have the potential to step to the forefront of the genre, if only they can separate themselves from the myriad of corpse-painted denizens channeling darkness today.

Conjuring the Dead is out now on Nuclear Blast Records.

Rating: 2.5/5 Stars

WOVENWAR “SELF-TITLED”

WOVENWAR “SELF-TITLED”

The story of As I Lay Dying, and their former vocalist, Tim Lambesis with his criminal activities, has been played out in the media to no end, so there is no need to lay out the gruesome details here.

Lambesis’ As I Lay Dying bandmates, however, have decided to take their lumps and forge on with Wovenwar. Their addition of former Oh, Sleeper vocalist Shane Blay, was a surprise to all, since his clean singing not befitting of the metalcore standard they once employed. But with this new project, they have also adopted a more hard rock approach while  maintaining a semblance of melody and razor sharp riffs on their self-titled debut

After the intro, “Foreward,” “All Rise” kicks into full gear with hooks and catchy vocals. While guitarists Nick Hipa and Phil Sgrosso are best known for their technical breakdowns, the new style fits them well.  They don’t miss a beat here.  “Death to Rights” has a harder feel, but it retains the melody. Bassist Josh Gilbert‘s clean singing was well know in As I Lay Dying, and his melodies with Blay are second to none. “The Mason” is another shredder, and it should earn its fair share of radio play. “Father/Son” is a very cool, moody break in the middle of the album compounded by tribal sounding drums and atmospheric layers. While the former As I Lay Dying members have truly been through hell the last year or so, the lyrical content on this debut is upbeat and positive throughout.

While this album is enjoyable, the songs do tend to blend together, although  repeated listens uncover interesting and unique subtleties. Wovenwar have something to say, and they are making their statement loud and proud.

Wovenwar is out now on Metal Blade Records.

Rating: 4/5 stars