Album Reviews

JUDAS PRIEST “REDEEMER OF SOULS”

JUDAS PRIEST “REDEEMER OF SOULS”

The mighty Judas Priest have held a top spot in my personal metal realm for 30 years. They were my first real metal concert during the Defenders tour in 1984.

Along with Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath, they have influenced countless minions in their 40-plus year career, myself included.  While their history has had its fair share of rough patches, they have never lost the status that they earned in the early and mid years of their career. Throw out Ram It Down and Turbo, and you’ve got quite possibly (and arguably) some of the greatest metal albums ever released in the ’80s. Painkiller, Screaming for Vengeance, Defenders of the Faith, British Steel, Stained Class, Hell Bent for Leather  … need I go on?

Redeemer of Souls is the maiden voyage for KK Downing‘s replacement, Richie Faulkner, and although he is 30 years younger than the rest of the band, he delivers with his new, youthful energy.  While 2008′s Nostradamus was overindulgent, Redeemer of Souls brings Priest back to a form they haven’t been to in over 20 years.

Amid cracks of thunder, “Dragonaut” leaps out of the speakers. Although fresh, it sounds like it could have came right off of Screaming for Vengeance or Painkiller.  It has the catchy lyrics, hooks, melodies and screaming guitar solos that make a Priest song a classic.  The title track and “Halls of Valhalla” continue this path, and Halford’s trademark screams still bring chills. Glenn Tipton showcases what his capabilities, and his and Faulkner’s riffs and solos are perfect.

“Sword of Damocles” keeps the fire burning and the guitars screaming, and “March of the Damned” is a lighter, more radio-friendly song. “Hell and Back,” “Battle Cry” and “Down in Flames” keep the traditional feel going with  a massive arena sound. “Crossfire” brings a more bluesy feel to the album hearkening to the Priest of old, while “Cold Blooded” slows the tempo but retains its catchiness.

The deluxe edition includes five extra songs that continue the metal attack. “Snakebite” is upbeat and catchy, “Creatures” is massive sounding and haunting, and “Never Forget” is a slow, emotional ballad.

While Redeemer of Souls may never reach the status of the classics, it is certainly a viable Priest album, and, in my opinion, their best since Painkiller.  Yes, the band is aging, but they are doing it gracefully.

Redeemer of Souls is out now on Sony Music.

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

OVERKILL “WHITE DEVIL ARMORY”

OVERKILL “WHITE DEVIL ARMORY”

Time travel is wonderful thing, even if only in your mind. When White Devil Armory came up for review, I was taken back to a record store in 1985.  I was sifting through the new vinyl releases and came upon Feel The Fire from a New Jersey Band called Overkill.

The cover of it made me buy this album. Upon hearing the opening riffs of “Raise The Dead,” I became a lifelong member of “The Green and the Black.” I can honestly say I own every single release from this band.

Overkill have gone through their fair share of lineup changes over the last 34 years and 18 albums, but the core of Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth and D.D. Verni remain. Guitarists Derek Tailer and Dave Linsk and drummer Ron Lipnicki have all been with the band 10-plus years now, making this one of the most stable lineups in their history.  Even through the changes, they have never released a bad album, although some are better than others.  In my humble opinion, these guys never received the attention they deserved during the thrash revolution, and along with Testament and Exodus, Overkill round out the big seven of that genre.

White Devil Armory picks up right where The Electric Age left off.  It takes elements of early Overkill and shreds them with a more energetic “thrashy” feel.  There’s no mistaking who this is, and that’s one of the things about Overkill I love. Blitz’s vocals are unmistakable and are as much a trademark of the band as their rolling, galloping thrash sound.

After the ominous, metallic intro, “XDM,” “Armorist” kicks in with the energy and neck-breaking reckless abandon including galloping bass, gang shouted background vocals, blasting double-bass drums, screaming guitars and of course, Blitz’s trademark shrieks. “Down to the Bone” sounds like it could have been on Under The Influence. “Pig” is a different animal; it’s still fast and furious, but with more of a punk approach.

“Bitter Pill” is a slower, half-time song that just continues to build throughout, and allows Overkill to flex their songwriting muscles. “Where There’s Smoke” and “Freedom Rings” are furious examples of the pure thrash Overkill can deliver, and “King of the Rat Bastards” has a “From The Underground and Below” feel to it. “It’s All Yours” and “In The Name” round out White Devil Armory with a one-two punch right in the face. The former is Overkill doing what they do best, and the latter just screams “Feel The Fire.” It seems to be a throwback to that first era of the band in ways, but sounds just as fresh as “Armorist.”

Overkill have done a great job  keeping their image and sound fresh with White Devil Armory.  They just know exactly what to do to keep up their part of the thrash revolution.

White Devil Armory is out July 22 on eOne Music.

Rating: 5/5 Stars

GOATWHORE “CONSTRICTING RAGE OF THE MERCILESS”

GOATWHORE “CONSTRICTING RAGE OF THE MERCILESS”

New Orleans, Louisiana, is producing some of the best releases of 2014 in the metal world. First Down, then Crowbar and Eyehategod, and now Goatwhore.

Although Goatwhore are in an entirely different genre than the aforementioned bands, they are just as important as the others. Their sound, described as blackened death or blackened thrash (which I tend to agree with more) pigeonholes a band that dances a fine line among the silly sub-genre listing this day and age. More definitively, Goatwhore kicks your ass with brutal metal. On Constricting Rage of the Merciless, their 6th studio release, they prove what they do and they do it well.

The album openers, “Poisonous Existence in Reawakening” and “Unraveling Paradise,” continue the merciless beating that Blood For the Master started. They are in fine form, from the dynamics of the vocals between Sammy Duet and Louis B. Falgoust II to the shredding guitar attack. “Baring Teeth for Revolt, “although similar to “When Steel and Bone Meet” from Blood for the Master, shows that Goatwhore can implement a sound with catchy lyrics and vocals, but remain fucking brutal and evil at the same time. Only Skeletonwitch shares this ability.

“Heaven’s Crumbling Walls of Pity” is true Goatwhore, but adds an extra layer of darkness on top. It’s slower at times, but just plain heavy.  “Cold Earth Consumed in Dying Flesh” is the best track here; it’s slower and heavier, like if they had an ugly child with Crowbar. Dark and moody, it really displays their ability. “FBS” is an all out thrash feast, and “Nocturnal Conjuration of the Accursed” melds thrash with a galloping tempo reminiscent of a Bay Area band. “Schadenfreude” highlights the abilities of the rhythm section of bassist James Harvey and drummer Zack Simmons, and “Externalize This Hidden Savagery” closes the album out with an all out thrash attack.

Constricting Rage of the Merciless is Goatwhore at their finest,  they do do NOLA proud.

Constricting Rage of the Merciless is out now on Metal Blade Records.

Rating: 5/5 Stars

ALLEGAEON “ELEMENTS OF THE INFINITE”

ALLEGAEON “ELEMENTS OF THE INFINITE”

Allegaeon are not only here to bludgeon you with vicious death metal, they are here to make you think. Their third album, Elements of the Infinite, is a raging presentation of time changes, melody, shredding guitar and brutal vocals that tackle various scientific subjects and theories.

This isn’t Allegaeon‘s first foray into this specific style of metal, but this is their best offer yet. An entire album of straight death metal can be daunting and repetitive to listen to, but they know how to break that mold with melody and, courtesy of classically trained guitarist Greg Burgess, classically-inspired breaks and interludes.  Allegaeon have been on my radar from the start with their 2010 album Fragments of Form and Function, but when Formshifter hit the shelves in 2012, including the huge song “Behold (God I Am),” I knew this band was onto something, and they earned a permanent rotation in my personal playlist. With some line up changes,  like the addition of drummer Brandon Park and second guitarist Michael Stancel, the current line up of vocalist Ezra Haynes, bassist Corey Archuleta and Burgess have found the magical combination of talent they have been seeking.

“Threshold of Perception” broadcasts the direction of this album from the onset. “Dyson Sphere” contains a bit more of an accessible sound than other songs here, and “1.618,” the album’s first single, is a blistering fury of manic guitars and blast beat drums. “Gravimetric Time Dilation” is a whirlwind of impeccable guitar work, and Burgess and Stancel burn this one to the ground. “Biomech II” is a continuation of “Biomech from Fragments” and is the angriest song here with its flurry of blast beats and thick riffs. “Genocide for Praise – Vals for the Vitruvian Man” is the high point on this album, and it showcases what the entire band in almost 13 minutes of some of the heaviest shredding metal I’ve ever heard.

Allegaeon have created perfection in Elements of the Infinite, and it will garner them the respect and attention they have earned and deserve.

Elements of the Infinite is out now on Metal Blade Records.

 Rating: 5/5 Stars

AGALLOCH “THE SERPENT AND THE SPHERE”

AGALLOCH “THE SERPENT AND THE SPHERE”

Agalloch evoke thoughts of forests, long winters, and expansive spaces filled with Mother Nature’s creations getting along harmoniously. They have twisted and stretched metal genres, such as folk, death and black metal, in their wake.

Their trademark acoustic interludes, combined with vocalist John Haughm‘s brutal growls, makes them almost instantly recognizable. Agalloch‘s previous releases have all brought something different to the table, and The Serpent and the Sphere is no different. This time around, they seems to be a more stripped down, straightforward version of the band.  The dynamics they are known for are still very present, but once again, their sound has evolved. This is an album that must be listened to in it’s entirety to appreciate the expansive chasm opened here by Agalloch.

“Birth and Death of the Pillars of Creation,” the album’s 10-plus minute opener, is what they are all about. The folky, Pink Floyd sounding acoustic guitar melds perfectly with the melody and atmosphere, and the juxtaposition created by Haughm’s vocals is haunting.  “(Serpens Caput)” is a beautiful, dark instrumental that leads to the “Astral Dialogue,” a sludgy, almost catchy track that has a rich tone and flawless production. “Dark Matter Gods” boasts a rolling bass line mixed with weeping, melodic guitar tone that lead to an incredible crescendo. “Celestial Effigy” blends the talents of all of Agalloch, then takes it to a whole new level. Everything here is perfect. “Plateau of Ages,” a 13-plus minute instrumental, goes by in a flash, further highlighting the song writing skills of the band.

Agalloch have reached a new high in the career with The Serpent and the Sphere and reign supreme as the leaders in this genre of music.

The Serpent and the Sphere is out now on Profound Lore Records.

Rating: 5/5 Stars

 

TOMBS “SAVAGE GOLD”

TOMBS “SAVAGE GOLD”

Simplicity has never sounded so good. Tombs take a brutal formula of sludge, post punk, atmospheric and black metal, and they twist it into their own little nightmare.

What if you took Enslaved, Gorguts, Neurosis, Bathory and a dash of Eyehategod for good measure, and put it on frappe’ in a blender? You’d end up with something close to what you have on Savage Gold. Tombs have clearly found themselves here.  I’ll admit, I did find their past releases a bit difficult to listen to, and my perception was that the music just seemed to wander aimlessly, but all of this is gone with Savage Gold.

“Thanatos” is at the heart of the nightmare that is Savage Gold. Drummer Andrew Hernandez II holds the back beat with a skill that is unequaled, and his abilities and talents flow throughout the entire album.  IT is a dark, heavy, atmospheric, trippy showcase of Tombs talents,  and it is perfect album opener.  Mike Hill‘s vocals are gurgling and haunting. “Seance” highlights the guitar work of Hill and Garrett Bussanick, and the song gets more angry as it builds to a magnificent crescendo. “Echoes” and “Deathtripper” really bring forth the atmospheric influence here and are almost trance-inducing, and you can feel the emotion in Hill’s vocals. Ben Brand‘s bass grooves on
Deathtripper” are simple and heavy. “Edge of Darkness” is an all-out assault, and the guitar work shreds.  “Legacy” is right up there, too, and Hernandez’s drumming is impeccable.

Tombs have created something very special with Savage Gold.  Their menagerie of different sounds and genres truly is something special, and it will garner this album high in the rankings of a lot of critics and fans alike.

Savage Gold is out now on Relapse Records.

Rating: 4/5 Stars